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What to Do After Receiving a Spinal Fusion

Man receiving physical therapy

Are you suffering from chronic back pain? Have you tried a variety of treatment options and not seen benefits from any of them?

While many people with back pain recover with the help of less-invasive measures, sometimes, surgery is the best option.

One of the most common spine surgeries to reduce back pain is a spinal fusion.

Whether you’ve recently had this surgery or are looking into receiving a spinal fusion, it can be helpful to know what to expect once the procedure is complete.

Read on to learn some important information that will help you know what to do (and what to avoid) following your surgery.

Typical Recovery Time

One of the most important things to know before proceeding with any kind of surgery is the amount of time it typically takes to recover.

In most cases, the recovery time after spinal fusion surgery is between three and four months.

Depending on your health prior to the surgery and any complications you may experience, the recovery time could be shorter or longer than this.

Plan for Aftercare Ahead of Time

Before your surgery, it’s important to set yourself up for a successful recovery. This means doing some prep work before you head to the hospital.

Some things you’ll want to do to ensure your comfort while recovery:

  • Stock up on microwaveable meals, pre-made and other easy-to-eat foods
  • Arrange for someone to help with heavier chores like laundry or vacuuming
  • Talk to your doctor about the prescription refill process so you don’t have to go an extended time without painkillers
  • Have some other painkillers on hand (such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen) to help you wean off the stronger drugs

There are also a number tools you can purchase that will make day-to-day tasks easier.

These tools include grabber devices, canes or walkers, a mini-fridge or cooler, and a recliner with extra cushions. You may also want to consider installing handrails in your bathroom to prevent falls.

Lookout for Warning Signs of Infection

Infections aren’t especially common after surgery, but they can happen. It’s important to take steps to prevent an infection — such as keeping your incision site clean — but you’ll also need to know the warning signs so you can get help from your doctor as soon as possible.

Some of the most common signs you’ll need to watch for include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Increased redness
  • Pain or discharge around the incision site

If you notice any of these signs, contact your doctor immediately.

Exercise Recommendations

Most people can begin resuming their normal activities within 1-3 months of surgery. If your job requires a lot of physical activity, it’s sometimes recommended that you wait up to six months.

When your doctor clears you to start exercising again, it can be hard to know where to begin.

You will likely to required to attend physical therapy to promote proper healing and help you regain your strength post-surgery.

Your physical therapist will prescribe a treatment protocol for regaining strength and mobility in your spine post-surgery. /most programs are usually similar to the basic guidelines listed below.

Start Short Walks and Light Stretching

At the very beginning, your main priority should simply be taking short walks frequently throughout the day. It’s important to move as much as you can to promote good circulation and avoid additional pain and stiffness.

You don’t have to walk for miles at a time. Simply walking around the block — or even just around the house — is a great place to start.

In addition to taking short walks, it’s helpful to spend some time gently stretching your hamstrings and quadriceps. You should also dedicate time to stretching the middle of your back to prevent nerve scarring or adhesions.

Add Static Stabilization Exercises

After the first week, you can start slowly adding in what are known as static stabilization exercises. These are exercises that are done without moving the torso, so they’re safe for people who are recovering from spinal fusion surgery.

Common static stabilization exercises include:

  • Lying pelvic tilts
  • Balancing exercises (lifting one leg off the floor while keeping the pelvis stable)
  • Bridges
  • Superman holds
  • Resistance band rows

At first, these exercises might be very difficult for you. But, with practice, they’ll soon get easier as you get stronger and your back begins to heal.

Add Dynamic Exercises

When you’re about six weeks in, you can start to add some dynamic exercises on top of your static stabilization exercises.

Dynamic exercises require you to move the torso, and many of them require the use of an exercise ball to give you extra support.

Listed below are some common dynamic exercises you might include in your routine:

  • Arm and leg raises while sitting on the ball
  • Hip hinges while sitting on the ball
  • Plank leg lifts with the stomach or feet on the ball
  • Bridges with the calves or feet resting on the ball

When you’re doing exercises with a ball, remember that the most important thing is to focus on maintaining control. Don’t worry if you aren’t able to move through a full range of motion right away. That will come with practice.

Low-Impact Cardio

As you continue to heal, your doctor will eventually give you permission to add low-impact cardiovascular exercise into your routine. Cardio is great for conditioning and regaining strength and stamina.

Some of the best forms of low-impact cardio to try include:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Elliptical trainer
  • Stationary bike
  • Stair climber

Start slow when incorporating cardio back into your routine — ten minutes a day might be enough in the beginning. Over time, though, you should be able to work up to about thirty minutes per day.

Are You Interested in Receiving a Spinal Fusion?

If you think back surgery is the right option for you and are interested in receiving a spinal fusion, contact us at the Comprehensive Spine Institute today.

We’ll schedule a consultation and help you determine what the best approach is for eliminating your back pain.

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