Lumbar Spinal Fusion: Before Your Surgery

Skip to the navigation

What is lumbar spinal fusion?

Picture of lumbosacral region of the spine (lower back)

Spinal fusion is surgery that joins, or fuses, two or more vertebrae together. The joints will no longer be able to move.

Most of the time, bone from your pelvic bone or from a bone bank is used to make a "bridge" between the vertebrae to be joined. Metal rods, wires, or screws are often attached to the vertebrae. This will hold them together until new bone grows between them.

Spinal fusion is major surgery. It usually lasts several hours. It involves making a cut in your back or your belly or sometimes both. The cuts, called incisions, leave scars that fade with time.

You can expect your back to feel stiff and sore after surgery. You will be given pain medicine. You will probably get up and walk at the hospital. You will be in the hospital for several days.

It may take 4 to 6 weeks to get back to doing simple activities, such as light housework.

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

What happens before surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctors ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some of these can increase the risk of bleeding or interact with anesthesia.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if you should stop taking these medicines before your surgery. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Your doctor will tell you which medicines to take or stop before your surgery. You may need to stop taking certain medicines a week or more before surgery. So talk to your doctor as soon as you can.
  • If you have an advance care plan, let your doctor know. Bring a copy to the hospital. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets your doctor and loved ones know your health care wishes. Doctors advise that everyone prepare these papers before any type of surgery or procedure.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be cancelled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewellery and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. You will be asleep during the surgery.
  • Surgery will take several hours.

Going home

  • Be sure you have someone to drive you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine make it unsafe for you to drive.
  • You will be given more specific instructions about recovering from your surgery. They will cover things like diet, wound care, follow-up care, driving, and getting back to your normal routine.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You do not understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before surgery (such as fever, cold or flu, chest pain, or shortness of breath).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

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

Enter X682 in the search box to learn more about "Lumbar Spinal Fusion: Before Your Surgery."