Hospital recovery after a fusion surgery focuses on managing pain and learning how to move safely while the lumbar spinal fusion solidifies. solidifies. A hospital stay of between 2 and 4 days is typical.

Immediately After Spinal Fusion Surgery

Upon waking up after surgery, most patients experience some pain and drowsiness. The more intense pain typically lasts a couple of days after surgery, and pain medication is administered regularly to manage it. This medication may be given in the vein or by injection into the muscle of the arm or leg. Sometimes a patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pump is used, in which the patient controls when an attached device administers the pain medication. As the pain decreases, transition to oral medication will happen.

See Getting Adequate Pain Control After Back Surgery

Blood tests may be done periodically following fusion surgery. For example, because blood is lost during surgery, hemoglobin will be monitored to ensure that blood oxygen levels do not fall too low. Other blood tests may also be ordered.

See Prepare for Blood Loss after Spinal Fusion Surgery

Oxygen may be administered to ease breathing, and a heart monitor may track the heart rate and rhythm after surgery.

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Walking and Moving After Spinal Fusion Surgery

Keeping the spine aligned correctly is important after surgery in order to minimize its workload and reduce the risk of disrupting the healing process. Patients work with physical and occupational therapists each day to learn the safest ways to dress, sit, stand, walk, and take part in other activities without putting added stress on the back. Even getting out of bed requires a special technique—known as log-rolling—to avoid twisting the spine.

See Guide to Physical Therapy After Spinal Fusion

In some cases, the physical therapist may advise the patient to use a walker for stability. The occupational or physical therapist also helps arrange medical equipment for later use in the person’s home, if needed.

Many people find it helpful to bring sturdy slip-on shoes with them to the hospital, since surgeons and hospital staff encourage patients to get up and walk around as quickly as possible after the surgery.

Back Brace
Some patients are fitted with a back brace to limit motion in the spine. Wearing a snug-fitting t-shirt or tank top under the brace helps make it more comfortable against the skin, and prevents skin irritation such as rashes or blisters.

See When to Consider a Back Brace

Incision Care

A large bandage, called a surgical dressing, covers the incision (surgical wound) for about the first day after surgery. A nurse eventually changes the bandage to a smaller one. The incision is checked every day to ensure it remains dry and clean.

Showers are typically not allowed the first few days after spinal fusion surgery. However, a sponge bath may be permitted so long as the incision site does not get wet.

Leaving the Hospital After Spinal Fusion Surgery

Throughout the stay, each individual’s progress is monitored by hospital staff. These are some benchmarks patients generally need to reach before being released from the hospital to recover at home:

  • Pain is under control using oral medications 
  • Able to get out of bed and move around without assistance
  • Able to empty his or her bladder
  • No signs of infection at incision site

See Practical Advice for Recovering from Back Surgery

Patients will not be able to drive themselves home. If the home is more than an hour’s drive, it is advisable to stop and get out to walk for a brief time.

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Sometimes a patient has recovered enough to leave the hospital but not enough to be at home. In these situations, the patient may be discharged to a rehabilitation facility for additional care and recovery progress until a return home is advised.

See Rehabilitation Following Lumbar Fusion

The transition from the hospital will be smoother if the home has been adapted in advance to accommodate recovery. If family members or friends cannot assist with major household responsibilities, a home health aide may be arranged.

See How to Prep Your Home for Spine Surgery Recovery Video

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