Attention to appropriate post-operative treatment is critical in leading to a successful spine fusion outcome. After a spine fusion surgery, it takes approximately three months for the fusion to successfully set up and achieve its initial maturity. During these first three months, it is necessary to avoid activities that may place the bone graft at risk. Therefore, surgeons will usually restrict activities that involve lifting, twisting or bending the lower back, or vigorous activities, such as running and other sports.
Because of activity restrictions immediately following spine fusion surgery, many people find that preparing for their postoperative recovery prior to the surgery is helpful. For example, placing frequently used items in the home within easy reach (so no bending is required), stocking up on groceries (so it’s not necessary to lift grocery bags), and getting some extra help around the house can all help with the recovery process.
Depending on the type of spine fusion, the patient, and the surgeon there may be a brace used after surgery.This can be a soft corset brace or a more rigid plastic custom molded orthosis. Some spine surgeons may also augment the fusion site with bone growth stimulators.
The bone will continue to fuse and evolve over the next couple of years. In the event that there has been significant injury to the nerves, it may take up to two years before it can be determined how much the nerves will recover after the spine fusion surgery.
Any time a surgery is performed there is significant deconditioning of the muscles. Just as the conservative (nonoperative) treatment of low back pain requires commitment to a good exercise program, post-operative rehabilitation after a spine fusion surgery requires the same type of commitment. When patients decide to proceed with fusion of the low back, it is also critical to make a strong commitment towards the rehabilitation process. Rehabilitation is focused on stretching, strengthening and, just as importantly if not more so, aerobic conditioning.
A frequent concern of patients is their ability to resume both recreational and occupational activities after the spine fusion. As is implied above, the more vigorous the activities, the longer it may take before the patient is able to return to them. However, even strenuous activities can be usually be resumed by six months after the spine fusion surgery.
There is a natural anxiety about resuming normal duties, although once the fusion is set, the more the back is stressed, the bigger and stronger the fusion becomes. Bone is a live tissue and responds to stress by growing stronger It generally takes about three months for the fusion to set, and once it has set up it is not fragile and is very unlikely to break. Stressing the bone involved in the fusion after three months helps the spine fusion to become stronger.