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Common Questions About Spine Surgery

Often times, the most common questions surrounding a procedure are related to recovery. Ask your trusted provider these questions to gain a clear understanding and set realistic expectations to your recovery. And remember, everyone heals differently!

How much pain should you expect?

Expect to have some pain after surgery, but you should be reasonably comfortable by using your pain medications and good body mechanics.  Pain medications will not eliminate your pain completely.  Occasionally, pain can be very upsetting but this does not mean there was a problem with the surgery.  The pain will improve over time, but take it slow and avoid overstimulating your body.  Increase your activities in small increments and take the time to rest and heal.  Always speak to your physician about what is best for your specific case and set realistic goals and expectations for yourself.  You’ll be on the road to recovery in no time!

Limitations & Restrictions

  • Sit in a straight chair 4-6 times per day for short periods of time – 5-15 minutes.  Always maintaining a neutral spine and increase your tolerance gradually.
  • Once home, short walks for ten minutes in your house every few hours is advised.  As you tolerate these short walks, take longer walks outside.  You should recover from any increased pain overnight.
  • Revisit your recovery plan and talk to your physician if you don’t feel comfortable with your current regiment

When can you return to work?

Depending on the individual, some patients return to light work in about two weeks with a gradual increase as tolerated.  Those with more strenuous jobs (including prolonged sitting) may require more time.

How long will it take to heal from surgery involving removal of a herniated disc?

The incision and muscles heal quickly, with the incision usually closed by two weeks and healed by four weeks.  The muscles may be swollen, stiff, and painful for six to eight weeks.  The disc will be gradually strengthen over two to six months.

How long will it take for a fusion to heal?

Low back fusions take an average of  six to 12 months to become solid.  Neck fusions are usually healed by three to six months.  Continue the process in small increasing increments.

  • Do not resume your exercise regimen (other than walking) until you have had your follow-up visit with your surgeon for further instruction.
  • Pain medications are the leading cause of constipation after surgery, so treat constipation aggressively and reduce your pain medications as quickly as possible.
  • Avoid car travel for two to four weeks after surgery unless it is essential (travel from the hospital or to a doctor’s appointment).

What about sleeping?

  • Use the log-rolling technique to turn in and get out of bed.  The goal is to avoid twisting the spine – move your body as one unit.
  • Most people have a preferred position in which they spend most of the night. Set up your bed to provide maximum support for this position.
    • If you sleep primarily on your back, place a cylinder roll or pillow under your neck and a flat pillow under your head so the overall alignment of the neck and spine is neutral.
    • If you sleep on your side, place a larger pillow under your neck and a smaller pillow under your head so the overall neck alignment is straight rather than curved.
  • A water pillow usually provides the best spine alignment.

When is it time to call your physician?

  • If you are experiencing a new pain or new weakness
  • If you have a fever
  • If you experience severe headache
  • If you lose control of your bowel or bladder function
  • If you experience new or increased redness, swelling, or draining from your incision