What happens after lumbar spinal fusion surgery?

Lumbar spinal fusion surgery is a surgery to join two or more spinal bones -- vertebrae -- so that they eventually grow into one solid bone. After surgery:
  • You will wake up from surgery in a recovery area of the hospital. Within about 30 minutes, you will be taken to your hospital room.
  • You will feel new pain in the area where the surgery was done. The first few days after surgery can be quite painful. You'll be given medication for it, and the pain will gradually go away.
  • Most patients are up and walking the day of the surgery. Nurses and physical therapists will be there to assist you. By the time you are released from the hospital, you should be able to get around on your own, go up and down stairs, and take care of your own personal needs.
  • Expect to stay in the hospital between two and six days. Some patients need to stay longer. You will be allowed to go home as soon as you're doing well medically and your surgeon approves.
After spinal lumbar fusion surgery, you will first go to the recovery room for monitoring, including nurses checking your vital signs and incision. You will most likely have a Foley catheter to drain your bladder. This will be removed as soon as you are able to walk to the bathroom safely.

You will have sequential compression devices on your legs that gently squeeze and release your calves. These help prevent the complication of blood clots. You will still have an intravenous (IV) line.

You will be transferred to the nursing unit where the staff is specially trained to care for people who have had spinal surgery. You and your family/friends will be introduced to your healthcare staff and be briefed on your room. You will most likely have a PCA (patient-controlled analgesia) for pain control. This consists of a button that you as the patient can push when you feel your pain is increasing. It will deliver your pain medication through your IV line. (A safety feature will prohibit you from geting more pain medication than is prescribed, no matter how many times you push the button.)

You will be started with ice chips and then clear liquids. Your diet will be slowly advanced as you tolerate the liquids and begin passing gas. You will most likely rest most of this day in bed. You will be assisted if you need repositioning in bed.

The day after your surgery is considered Post Op Day #1. On this day you should expect to:
  • walk with physical therapy or nursing
  • begin exercises appropriate to your surgery
  • have your precautions reinforced -- remember no bending, lifting or twisting
  • begin to learn how to perform your daily hygiene and activities while following your spine precautions
  • have your dressing changed and possibly have your drain removed
  • have your Foley catheter removed
  • begin the transition to oral pain medications
  • develop a plan for discharge
There are a number of goals for discharge:
  • move independently and perform daily hygiene and activities following your spine precautions
  • walk 50-100 feet
  • understand how and when to wear your brace if one has been ordered for you
  • have your pain managed by oral pain medications and be able to tolerate a regular diet

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.