Recovery Time For Spine Fusion Surgery

October 31, 2018 by: Luis M. Tumialán, MD
​​​​​​​Spine Surgery

Recovery Time For Spine Fusion Surgery

Back pain is an extremely common problem and one of the leading causes of missed days from work in the United States. There are many different causes of back pain, from poor posture to an underlying medical problem. Many issues can be improved using non-invasive therapies and medications. However, in more serious cases, surgical intervention may be necessary. Depending on the cause of your back pain, your doctor may refer you for a procedure called spine fusion surgery.

What is spine fusion surgery?

Spine fusion surgery is a surgical procedure that involves fixing two or more vertebrae in the spine together with the aim of replicating the normal bone healing process and correcting problems with the vertebrae that the patient is experiencing. By doing so, the surgeon creates greater stability in the spinal structure and eliminates much of the pain that some patients feel in their back when they try and move. 

The procedure is performed while you are under the effects of a general anesthetic, meaning that you will not be awake or feel any pain during the surgery. During the procedure, your surgeon will place bone or a bonelike material between the two damaged vertebrae, and then secure the entire unit together – normally using metal plates, rods and screws. 

The entire process should take around 3 or 4 hours, depending on the method of fusion that is used. Your surgeon will discuss this with you at length during your consultation appointment. The recommendation will be made using a combination of your medical history and the results of imaging tests that you will have had done – such as x-rays, MRI or CT scans. 

What is spine fusion surgery used to treat?

Spine fusion can be successfully used to treat a range of different spinal problems. Your spinal specialist may recommend spine fusion surgery as a course of treatment for the following issues:

Degenerative disc disease. This is when normal, age-related changes occur in the spine that cause the intervertebral discs to lose effectiveness, thus triggering back pain. 

Spondylolisthesis. This is a condition in which one of the vertebrae in the spine slips out of place onto the bone below it, causing back pain. 

Spinal stenosis. This refers to a narrowing of the spaces in your spine that puts pressure on the nerves and cause the patient to experience pain. 

Scoliosis. This condition is characterized by a spine that twists and curves to the side. Surgery is normally recommended if the condition is severe. 

Spinal tumors. This includes cancers that have begun in or spread to the spine. Spine fusion can re-stabilize the spine if damage has been done to the vertebrae while trying to remove the tumors.

Spinal fractures. Fusion surgery can support the bones as they heal.

What will my recovery for spine fusion surgery be like?

Spine fusion is an invasive surgery and as such, you can expect to have a short stay in the care of your medical facility while you recover. Your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing will be carefully monitored while the effects of your general anesthetic fade, and you will be provided with pain relief to ease any discomfort that you feel. You can also expect to have a catheter in place to drain your bladder, and this will probably be removed around 24-36 hours after your surgery. Compression stockings are also provided, as these will help to prevent deep vein thrombosis (blood clots) from occurring. 

Once the effects of the general anesthetic have fully worn off, you will be able to eat and drink normally. You will also have a visit from a physiotherapist who will show you how you need to move around while you heal. You will not be able to twist or bend until given express permission by your medical team and/or physical therapist. 

Once you return home, you will be given specific guidance regarding your care. You will not be able to drive home, so you should arrange for someone to take you. Bathing and swimming will be strictly prohibited until you are given permission by your medical team, and you should also avoid sitting for long periods as this places pressure on your spine. 

You will be given instructions on how to care for your wound, including changing the dressing if needed. Your sutures will be removed approximately 14 days after your surgery. Heavy lifting and any strenuous exercise should be avoided for at least 6 weeks, or longer if your consultant considers it necessary. Around this time your surgeon will request that you get another x-ray of your spine so that the progress of your healing can be assessed. 

It is important that you prepare for the fact that your recovery from spine fusion surgery could take anywhere up to 3 months. Exactly how long you will need to take off from work should be discussed with your doctor, but it is crucial that you do not return to work too early, as this could cause complication with the healing process and the overall success of your spine fusion surgery. 


If you have been recommended for spine fusion surgery and you would like further information, or you would like to arrange a consultation with our experienced and compassionate medical care team, please contact our office. 

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