Spinal fusion is a major operation and most patients will spend three or four days in the hospital afterwards in order to recuperate before being allowed home. A brace or collar may be worn to keep the spine stable and prevent any movement which could cause problems as the graft settles into place. Surgical drains may be necessary, for up to three days, in order to remove fluid in cases where a chest incision has been used. Pain medications will usually be given intravenously with a control pump for use by the patient. Alternatively, analgesic injections or pills may be administered.
Although it is important to become mobile after surgery in order to reduce the risks of thrombophlebitis, patients having undergone spinal fusion will need to be instructed on how to move properly in order to optimize recovery. Guidance will be given on sitting, standing, and walking, and patients will learn the ‘log-roll’ technique of getting in and out of bed. Some patients may be fed enterically for two to three days if unable to eat. After release from hospital, extended bed-rest is not usually necessary during recovery. A back-brace may be advised and is usually worn when travelling as a passenger in a car for a number of weeks after spinal fusion. Driving is often recommended against for at least two weeks after surgery and patients should discuss their return to normal activities with their surgeon at their follow-up consultation. Heavy lifting, twisting, and bending movements, and sexual activity are also ill-advised in the first two weeks after surgery. Many patients can return to work within two-weeks to a month, but those in a less sedentary job may need to alter responsibilities at work (where possible) or take longer to
Rehabilitation usually takes the form of gentle walking, with a gradual increase in the length of the exercise. Swimming, and riding a stationary bike are also part of many physical therapy programmes in the recovery from spinal fusion surgery. Patients may be given a regime of stretching and strengthening exercises to carry out daily in order to aid muscle healing and ensure that stiffness and inflexibility does not occur.