Cervical Spinal Fusion: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

The spine

After surgery, you can expect your neck to feel stiff and sore. This should improve in the weeks after surgery. You may have trouble sitting or standing in one position for very long and may need pain medicine in the weeks after your surgery.

You may need to wear a neck brace for a while. It may take 4 to 6 weeks to get back to your usual activities, but it may depend on what kind of surgery you had.

Your doctor may advise you to work with a physiotherapist to strengthen the muscles around your neck and back.

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.
  • Follow your doctor's directions about not lifting anything that would strain your neck and 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, weightlifting, 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 taking long car trips for 2 to 4 weeks after surgery. Your neck may become tired and painful from sitting too long in one position.
  • You will probably need to take 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 neck 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. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • 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

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • 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 and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Be safe with 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 pill is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your pills after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain pill.

Incision care

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

Exercise

  • Do exercises as instructed by your doctor or physiotherapist to improve your strength and flexibility.

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 neck. 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 cannot swallow.
  • You have severe pain in your neck or back.
  • You are unable to move an arm or 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 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.
    • Red streaks leading from the site.
    • Pus draining from the site.
    • A fever.
  • You have new or worse symptoms in your arms, legs, chest, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
  • You lose bladder or bowel control.

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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Current as of: May 23, 2016