Lumbar Spinal Fusion: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

Lumbosacral region of the spine (lower back)

After surgery, you can expect your back to feel stiff and sore. You may have trouble sitting or standing in one position for very long and may need pain medicine in the weeks after your surgery. It may take 4 to 6 weeks to get back to doing simple activities, such as light housework. It may take 6 months to a year for your back to get better completely.

You may need to wear a back brace while your back heals. And your doctor may have you go to physiotherapy.

If your job doesn't require physical labour, you will probably be able to go back to work after 1 or 2 months. If your job involves light physical labour, it may take 3 to 6 months. Most people whose jobs involved heavy labour can never return to those jobs.

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

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation. Walking may also decrease your muscle soreness after surgery.
  • If advised by your doctor, you may need to avoid lifting anything that would cause excessive strain on your back. This may include a child, heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, or a vacuum cleaner.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Do not drive for 2 to 4 weeks after your surgery or until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Avoid riding in a car for more than 30 minutes at a time for 2 to 4 weeks after surgery. If you must ride in a car for a longer distance, stop often to walk and stretch your legs.
  • Try to change your position about every 30 minutes while sitting or standing. This will help decrease your back pain while you are healing.
  • You will probably need to take at least 4 to 6 weeks off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.
  • You may have sex as soon as you feel able, but avoid positions that put stress on your back or cause pain.

Diet

  • You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fibre supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.

Incision care

  • You will be given specific instructions about how to care for the cuts (incisions) the doctor made. The instructions will depend on the type of materials used to close the cut.

Exercise

  • Do back exercises as instructed by your doctor.
  • Your doctor may advise you to work with a physiotherapist to improve the strength and flexibility of your back.

Other instructions

  • To reduce stiffness and help sore muscles, use a warm water bottle, a heating pad set on low, or a warm cloth on your back. Do not put heat right over the incision. Do not go to sleep with a heating pad on your skin.

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 or nurse call line 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.

When should you call for help?

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

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
  • You are unable to move a leg at all.

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

  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain pills.
  • You have new or worse symptoms in your legs or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
  • You lose bladder or bowel control.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • You have blood or fluid draining from the incision.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.

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

  • You do not have a bowel movement after taking a laxative.
  • You are not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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

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