You were in the hospital for spine surgery. You probably had a problem with one or more disk, a cushion that separates the bones in your spine (vertebrae).
You may have had one of these surgeries:
Diskectomy -- surgery to remove all or part of your disk
Foraminotomy -- surgery to widen the opening in your back where nerve roots leave your spinal column
Laminectomy -- surgery to remove the lamina, two small bones that make up a vertebra, or bone spurs in your back, to take pressure off your spinal nerves or spinal column
Spinal fusion -- the fusing of two bones together in your back to correct problems in your spine
What to Expect at Home
Recovery after microdiskectomy (diskectomy) is usually fairly quick.
After diskectomy or foraminotomy, you may still feel pain, numbness, or weakness along the path of the nerve that was under pressure. These symptoms should get better in a few weeks.
Recovery after laminectomy and fusion surgery is longer. You will not be able to return to activities as quickly. It takes at least 3 to 4 months after surgery for bones to heal well, and healing may continue to happen for at least a year.
If you had spinal fusion, you will probably be off work for 4 to 6 weeks if you are young and healthy and your job is not very strenuous. It may take 4 to 6 months for older patients with more extensive surgery to get back to work.
The length of recovery will also depend on how bad your condition was before surgery.
You will need to change how you do some things. Try not to sit for longer than 20 or 30 minutes at one time. Sleep in any position that does not cause back pain. Your doctor will tell you when you may become sexually active.
You may be fitted for a back brace or corset to help support your back:
You should wear the brace when you are sitting or walking.
You may void wearing the brace when you sit on the side of the bed for a short period of time or use the bathroom at night.
Do not to bend at the waist. Instead, bend your knees and squat down to pick up something. Do not lift or carry anything heavier than around 10 pounds (nothing heavier than a milk carton). This means you should not lift a laundry basket, grocery bags, or small children. You should also avoid lifting something above your head until your fusion heals.
Take only short walks for the first 2 weeks after surgery.
After that, you may slowly increase how far you walk.
You may go up or down stairs once a day for the first 1 or 2 weeks, if it does not cause much pain or discomfort.
Do not start swimming, golfing, running, or other more strenuous activities until you see your doctor. You should also avoid vacuuming and more strenuous household cleaning.
Your doctor may or may not send you for some physical therapy after you leave hospital. You will need to learn how to move and do activities in a way that prevents pain and keeps your back in a safe position. These are:
How to get out of bed or up from a chair safely
How to get dressed and undressed
How to keep your back safe when doing work for other activities, eventually including lifting and carrying items
You will also learn certain exercises that help make muscles in your back stronger, and keep your back safe and stable.
Your doctor and physical therapist can help you decide whether or when you can return to your previous job.
Riding or driving in a car:
Do not drive for the first 2 weeks after surgery. After 2 weeks, you may take short trips when necessary.
Travel only for short distances as a passenger in a car. Avoid trips where you are sitting for a long period of time. If you have a long ride home from the hospital, stop every 30 to 45 minutes to briefly stretch.
Your bandages (Steri-strips) will fall off within 7 to 10 days. If not, you may remove them yourself after this time.
You may feel numbness or pain around your incision, and it may look a little red. Check it every day to see if it:
Is more red, swollen, or draining extra fluid
Begins to open up
Keep the incision dry for first 5 to 7 days. When you begin showering again, cover the incision with plastic wrap. Do not allow water from the shower head to beat down on the incision. The first time you shower, have someone there to help you. Make sure you check with your surgeon about when you can shower.
Do not smoke or use tobacco products after spine surgery. Avoiding tobacco is even more important if you had a fusion or graft.
Your doctor will give you a prescription for pain medicines. Get it filled when you go home so you have it available. If the pain is becoming worse, take your pain medicine to help before the pain becomes very bad.
During the early recovery period, consider taking pain medicine about a half an hour before you are going to increase your activity.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your doctor or nurse if you:
Have a fever above 101 °F or chills
Have more pain where you had your surgery
Have more drainage from the wound, or the drainage is green or yellow
Lose feeling or have a change of feeling in your arms (if you have neck surgery) or your legs and feet (if you had lower back surgery)
Have chest pain, shortness of breath
Also call your doctor if:
Your back pain begins to worsen and does not get better with rest and pain medicines.
You are having difficulty urinating and controlling your bowel movements.
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C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.