Spinal fusion is a common surgical procedure that is used for correcting problems with the smaller bones (vertebrae) in the spinal cord. These small bones in the spine are referred to as vertebrae. The process of spinal fusion can be related to a ‘welding’ process as the basic idea behind the spinal fusion surgery is to fuse together two or more of the vertebrae so that they can heal and become a single and solid bone. Spinal fusion surgery is performed on patients to help eliminate any painful motion of the spine; or when spinal stability is required. Spinal fusion can only be undertaken once your doctor is able to precisely pinpoint the source of your pain. This type of surgery provides relief from many types of back problems caused by tumor, spondylolisthesis, degenerative disc disease, scoliosis, spinal stenosis, and others. But how effective is a spinal fusion and what about life after spinal fusion? How long does it take to recover and return to your day-to-day activities after undergoing a spinal fusion surgery? Let’s take a closer look.
How is Life after Spinal Fusion?
Pain after Spinal Fusion
Well, it is to be expected that you will still feel some level of pain after the spinal fusion surgery. This pain is a part of the natural healing process and your doctor and healthcare team will work together with you to lower your pain through physical therapy and medications post spinal fusion surgery. This will also help you recover from the spinal fusion surgery faster.(1)
Medications After Spinal Fusion
Medications will be prescribed for providing you with short-term pain relief following spinal fusion surgery. There are many types of medications that are available for managing pain post spinal fusion surgery, such as: local anesthetics, Opioids and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).
Your doctor may prescribe a combination of these medications to improve your symptoms and also minimize the need for taking too many opioids. Keep in mind that while opioids will help reduce your pain after spinal fusion, they are also a class of narcotics and can prove to be addictive. This is why it is very important that you use opioids only as directed by your doctor and once the pain of spinal fusion surgery begins to get better, you should stop taking the opioids immediately. If your pain does not improve within a couple of days after your spinal fusion, then you must bring this up with your doctor.(2)
Healing Takes Time Post Spinal Fusion
Healing after a spinal fusion takes time, because the actual fusion process happening inside the body takes time too. It might even take several months for the bone to become solid, and through your comfort level will keep improving through each passing month, you still need to follow all the precautions that your doctor has recommended. During this healing period, the fused spine has to be kept in proper alignment and your healthcare team or physical therapy team will teach you how to move properly, how to sit, stand, reposition and walk post spinal fusion surgery.
Rest after Spinal Fusion
Over the months, your symptoms will start to improve gradually and so will your activity level. Immediately after the spinal fusion surgery, though, you will have to restrict your activities. Your doctor may recommend that you only undertake light activities like walking. Avoid any activity that is not urgent. As you start to regain your strength, you will also be able to increase your activity level, though at a slow pace after getting a spinal fusion.
Physical Therapy Post Spinal Fusion
Physical therapy sessions will begin from around six weeks to three months after your surgery depending on your healing and overall condition post spinal fusion. Your surgeon will discuss with you beforehand itself about whether physical therapy is even required in your individual situation.(3)
Back Brace after a Spinal Fusion
In some cases, after getting the spinal fusion, your doctor might also recommend that you wear a back brace for a certain period of time to keep your spine aligned in the correct way.
Emergency Signs Post Spinal Fusion
You should contact your doctor if you notice any of the following signs of infection post spinal fusion: Wound drainage, Redness, Tenderness, Swelling, Shaking chills and Fever higher than 38oC or 100cF.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle should be a priority after your spinal fusion surgery and you must strictly follow your doctor’s instructions properly if you want to increase your chances of having a successful outcome of your spinal fusion.