Postoperative Care for Spinal Fusion Surgery

The management of activities and needs after a spinal fusion surgery evolve with time. The following is what a typical patient can expect. There are different recommendations based on the spine surgeon's preference, the patient's needs, and the type of spine fusion surgery performed.

Improvement in preoperative symptoms is achieved in about 80% of patients. The improvement in back pain and function continues up to 2 years after spine fusion surgery. The rate of improvement depends on:

  • The ongoing maturation of the fusion mass
  • Recovery of the nerve compression
  • Conditioning of the muscles after spine surgery

Smoking After Spine Fusion Surgery

Another key factor that impacts recovery after spine fusion surgery is smoking. Nicotine acts like a poison in the bone, inhibiting fusion of the bone. One study of how well the bone mass fuses together in spinal fusion patients show that the nonunion rate is lowest (14%) for nonsmokers, slightly higher (17%) for patients who quit smoking for at least 6 months after surgery, and is highest (26%) for patients who continued to smoke. ("Nonsmokers fare better than smokers in fusion procedures," Orthopedics Today, vol. 20, no. 5, May 2000, p.12.)

As in many other types of treatment for back pain, the more effort put forth by the patient, the better the overall result of spine fusion surgery.

For the estimated 20% of patients who do not improve after spine fusion surgery, further work up and evaluation may be recommended.