Spinal Fusion Surgery Recovery: After Discharge (Three to Six Days)

Lumbar spinal fusion is major surgery and the patient needs time to heal. It is common to feel "run down" when first getting home.

Shifting positions frequently and avoiding long periods standing, sitting, or lying down are good strategies. Short walks, along with gradually increasing other activities, are helpful, but should be stopped if the pain increases dramatically.

Getting Help for Bigger Jobs

While recovery from a lumbar spinal fusion surgery, patients are typically asked to avoid bending, lifting heavy objects, and twisting the body. Most surgeons advise patients not to lift anything weighing more than a gallon of milk—about 8 pounds.

The lifting and bending involved in cooking and washing dishes can be painful, so frozen microwavable meals and paper plates a good option during this time. Chores that involve bending or lifting, such as laundry, grocery shopping, and caring for pets, are better done by someone else.

Managing Pain

The patient will likely still have pain after discharge from the hospital. Prescription pain medication will probably be recommended. If a narcotic is prescribed, the patient should not drink alcohol or operate a car, because this type of medication may cause drowsiness and/or impaired judgment. Ice packs may be used to supplement pain medication.

New regulations often make it more complicated than before to get more prescription pain relief medications such as narcotics (opioids). To avoid a delay, it is best to clearly understand the process for obtaining pain medications with the surgeon and/or staff before the operation.

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Warning Signs of Infection

The incision site needs to be washed daily and checked twice a day for signs of infection. Symptoms of a potential infection include fever, chills with an increase in redness, pain, or discharge around the surgical wound. The surgeon will need to be contacted if these symptoms appear. Showers are good for keeping the incision clean, but baths and swimming are not allowed until after the patient has checked with the surgeon at the first post-operative visit.

Adapting the Home Environment

These items may help make recovery at home more comfortable:

  • A “grabber” device. Bending and reaching up can be avoided with this lightweight tool, often sold at pharmacies and discount stores.
  • Toilet and shower equipment. Adding a shower mat, toilet riser, and a shower seat makes the bathroom safer and easier to use. Home health equipment is often covered by insurance.
  • A cane or walker. Patients who think a cane or walker would help them feel more stable can discuss this option with the surgeon.
  • A mini-fridge or cooler. Keeping cool drinks and ice packs close at hand helps patients avoid climbing stairs more than necessary.
  • A recliner or extra cushions. The seating position in a recliner takes some pressure off the lower back. Sitting on a cushioned surface is also likely to be more comfortable.
  • Fall prevention. It is best to remove anything that may be a tripping hazard, such as loose rugs or clutter. Some people also install handrails as needed, such as on stairs or in the shower.

These changes can help the patient recover at a safe pace. Trying to do too much too quickly can increase pain and slow recovery.