Spinal Fusion for Scoliosis in Children: What to Expect at Home

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Your Child's Recovery

Your child has had spinal fusion surgery to treat his or her scoliosis. Your doctor did the surgery through a cut, called an incision, in your child's back. Metal fasteners were attached to the curved parts of your child's spine to make it straighter. Then small pieces of bone, called grafts, were placed like bridges between pairs of vertebrae. As your child recovers, the grafts will become part of the spine and help keep it from curving.

It's normal for children to have pain after spinal fusion surgery, but your child is getting medicines to help manage the pain.

Your child may be able to go back to school after about 3 to 6 weeks. Full recovery may take 6 to 12 months. Your child will need lots of emotional support during this time.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for your child to recover. But each child recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to help your child get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for your child at home?

Activity

  • Have your child rest when he or she feels tired. Getting enough sleep will help your child recover.
  • Your child may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if your doctor okays it. Pat the incision dry. Do not let your child take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
  • Have your child try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than he or she did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount your child walks. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • Your child should not ride a bike, play running games, or take part in gym class for 6 to 9 months or until your doctor says it is okay.
  • For 6 to 12 months, make sure your child avoids lifting anything that would make him or her strain. This may include a heavy backpack, heavy grocery bags and milk containers, or bags of cat litter or dog food. Ask your doctor when your child can do activities that could jar the spine, such as competitive sports, skating, and skiing.

Diet

  • Your child can eat his or her normal diet. If your child's stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated.
  • You may notice a change in your child's bowel habits right after surgery. This is common. If your child has not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, call your doctor or nurse call line.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when your child can restart his or her medicines. The doctor will also give you instructions about your child taking any new medicines.
  • Give pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If you think the pain medicine is making your child sick to the stomach:
    • Give the medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.

Incision care

  • Your child will go home with a bandage and stitches or staples over the incision the doctor made. Your doctor may remove your child's bandage and stitches or staples 10 to 14 days after the surgery. If your child has stitches that dissolve in the body over time, the doctor will not need to take them out. Your doctor will tell you if your child needs to go back to have any stitches removed.
  • If your child has strips of tape on the incision the doctor made, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off. Or follow your doctor's instructions for removing the tape.
  • Wash the area daily with warm, soapy water, and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing. You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it weeps or rubs against clothing. Change the bandage every day.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child has symptoms of a blood clot in his or her lung (called a pulmonary embolism). These may include:
    • Sudden chest pain.
    • Trouble breathing.
    • Coughing up blood.
  • Your child is unable to move an arm or a leg at all.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks or pus.
    • A fever.
  • Your child bleeds through the dressing.
  • Your child has severe or worsening pain in his or her back.
  • Your child has symptoms of a blood clot in his or her leg, such as:
    • Pain in the calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in the leg or groin.
  • Your child loses bladder or bowel control.
  • Your child has new or worse symptoms in his or her arms, legs, chest, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child is not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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