Hospital recovery focuses on managing pain and learning how to minimize pressure on the back while the lumbar spinal fusion solidifies. A hospital stay of between 1 and 5 days is typical.

See Spine Fusion Post-Operative Care

Easing the Pain

Most patients will be in pain for the first few days after surgery, and pain medication is usually administered regularly. It may be given in the vein or by “hypo” (injection into the muscle of the arm or leg). In some cases, patient-controlled pain medication can be used. Within a couple of days, as the pain decreases, oral medication can be substituted in most cases.

See Opioid Pain Medications and Muscle Relaxants: List of Common Muscle Relaxers

Other forms of pain relief, such as nerve stimulation or ice packs to numb the painful area, may also provide significant relief.

Incision Care

It is best not to wash or scrub the incision site; rather, letting some soapy water gently flow over it is generally advised. There may be some drainage at first, requiring a dressing. If the area is clean and dry, however, no bandage or ointment is needed. The sutures or staples are commonly removed about two weeks after surgery.

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Tests After Surgery

Blood tests may be done periodically following spine 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.

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

Back Brace
Some patients will be fitted with a back brace to limit motion in the spine. Wearing a snug-fitting t-shirt or tank top under the brace may make the brace more comfortable against the skin.

See When to Consider a Back Brace and How to Use and Wear a Lower Back Brace

Therapy and Exercise After Spine Fusion

Keeping the spine aligned correctly is important after surgery. 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.

See How a Physical Therapist Can Help with Exercise

Even getting out of bed requires a special technique—known as “log-rolling”—to avoid twisting the spine. In some cases, the physical therapist may advise the patient to use a walker for the first couple of days. 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.

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Preparing to Leave the Hospital

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
  • The person can get out of bed and move around without assistance
  • The person can empty his or her bladder

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

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 needed.