Back fusion is a procedure to correct problems with the vertebrae or small bones of the spine. Basically, spinal fusion is an operation whose purpose is to connect the vertebrae, thus eliminating motion between them permanently. If you or someone you know are about to undergo the back fusion surgery, you’re probably nervous. The nervousness usually occurs when a person doesn’t know what comes after, what to expect? To help you out, this post will inform you about the recovery process.

Back fusion overview

Before finding out what to expect after spinal fusion, it’s necessary to learn more about the procedure itself. Besides eliminating the motion between two or more vertebrae, the fusion prevents stretching of nerves and surrounding muscles and ligaments. It is usually recommended in cases when motion causes pain and only in instances when the doctor can pinpoint and specify the source of pain. This means that if the exact cause of pain or discomfort is uncertain, then spinal fusion isn’t recommended.

Back fusion is usually performed to relieve symptoms associated with:

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Fracture
  • Infection
  • Scoliosis (abnormal, sideways curvature of the spine)
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the open spaces within the spine which causes pressure on spinal cord and nerves)
  • Spondylolisthesis (condition wherein a part of the spine causes vertebra to slip to one side of the body)
  • Tumor

What affects the recovery?

Now that you know what spinal fusion is, it’s time to learn more about things you can expect. In most cases, a patient stays in the hospital between 1 and five days; there’s no one size fits all rule here. A patient has to be able to get up and walk on his/her own before being discharged from the hospital. Some factors can prolong one’s stay in the hospital and recovery from the operation. They include:

  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Osteoporosis
  • Post-surgery activities
  • Malnutrition
  • Chronic steroid usage
  • Diabetes and other chronic illnesses

If you want to recover faster, than quitting smoking is a must. Nicotine is a bone toxin with a tremendous potential to impede bone-growing cells. This means that if you continue smoking after surgery, the organism finds it harder to grow bone necessary for the fusion.

Things you can expect after back fusion

The easiest way to understand fully what’s ahead of you is to divide the recovery process into different stages.

Hospital: 1 – 2 days

After the completion of the surgery, the primary aim of your hospital stay is to alleviate pain and learn how to minimize pressure on the back. At this point, nurses administer pain medication regularly. Applying cold packs is also an excellent way to reduce pain.

The incision shouldn’t be scrubbed or washed. Instead, you should just let soapy water flow over the site. You can also expect drainage in first days after surgery.

Because a patient loses blood during the surgery, the hemoglobin levels are monitored to make sure that blood oxygen doesn’t fall dramatically. The doctor may order some blood tests.

After discharge: 3 – 6 days

Before you leave the hospital, your doctor will inform you about the next checkup and other relevant info you should know. He/she will also tell you not to lift heavy objects, bend, twist the body, and to avoid any kind of strenuous activity that is hard on the back. You should follow doctor’s orders religiously, make sure someone is always home with you as support and help.

To manage pain, the doctor will prescribe medications, but you can also use ice packs to alleviate discomfort and pain sensation. To speed up recovery, you can use different devices, such as:

  • “grabber” device to avoid bending and reaching
  • Cane or a   walker
  • Cooler or mini fridge for ice packs

1 – 4 weeks after surgery

At this point, you feel stronger each day, but you have to take care of the incision properly to avoid the risk of infections. Use soap and water once a day. Staples and stitches are usually removed about two weeks after your procedure. Since physical activity is important, but you’re still not ready to do some vigorous activities, walking is ideal and plays a major role in the recovery process.

1 – 3 months after surgery

During this stage, you feel much better, and you’re able to perform more demanding activities. You will be happy to know that the worst pain disappears about a month after the surgery, meaning it can only get better from now on. However, when you feel pain in the back when doing something, regardless of the intensity, you should stop and take some rest.

At this point, the fusion bone mass is established which is why some maneuvers should be avoided such as lifting anything heavier than 10 to 15 pounds, bending, and twisting.

About six weeks after the spinal fusion, the patient undergoes physical therapy which lasts between 2 and three months. The therapy is customized according to your level of recovery and capabilities. During this stage, you can also add swimming to your physical activity routine.

Three months after surgery and beyond

At this stage, exercise is a pivotal aspect of the recovery process, and you shouldn’t neglect it. You will notice tremendous progress when performing some daily activities. Although it might seem like you’ve recovered, you should bear in mind that a complete recovery lasts up to eight months. You are obliged to go to checkups regularly.

Conclusion

Spinal fusion is a common procedure that resolves different problems and conditions. The surgery requires a lengthy recovery and adherence to physical therapy as well as avoiding bending, lifting, and twisting. You will feel better week after week. Remember, this is also the perfect opportunity to quit smoking.

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2 Comments

  1. F.M says:

    This article does not explain what the process of the ‘fusion’ actually involves. Nor does it contain any contraindications to having the procedure.
    It needs to be more balanced.

    1. Mark says:

      That’s because the article it titled, “What to expect after”…

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