One of the most important questions that all of our patients ask prior to spine surgery is, “How long will it take me to recover?” Most patients are very concerned to know how much pain they might experience after surgery, and to what extent their lives might be disrupted. Each patient’s recovery varies dramatically, depending on their overall health and the type and complexity of surgery performed. We will make sure that you understand the post-operative expectations for your particular situation. However, there are some general principles that you can follow.
Post-operative Hospital Care
Most types of surgery require that you be hospitalized for at least two days following the operation, with the exception of some minimally invasive surgeries. After your surgery is completed, you will be wheeled into a recovery room, where a nurse will monitor your vital signs and will assess your reflexes and motor function. Once you are stable and awake, you’ll be moved to a hospital room, where nurses will continue to monitor your recovery. Your family or visitors should be able to see you within one hour after surgery.
No surgical recovery is pain-free. Nevertheless, we will do our best to make sure that you are as comfortable as possible during your hospitalization and your recovery at home. Many of our patients are able to use patient-controlled analgesia, or PCA. The PCA unit allows you to receive small amounts of pain medication via IV on an “as-needed” basis, with a simple push of the button. Your doctor will determine the appropriate dosage, and the PCA unit has safeguards to ensure that you don’t receive too much medication. PCA can aid in a faster recovery, because you can consistently control the amount of pain medication that you need without waiting for a nurse to assist you.
Prior to release from the hospital, you will need to transition to oral pain medications instead of PCA. You will receive a prescription for these medications prior to your release. It is important to take your prescribed medications rather than over-the-counter (OTC) products unless your doctor instructs otherwise. Some OTC medications such as aspirin, Advil, or Motrin, can interfere with bone fusion and healing.
Returning to Activity
Most patients are asked to get out of bed and walk with assistance on the first day following surgery. While you are in the hospital, you can gradually increase your level of activity in preparation for discharge. You may receive some occupational or physical therapy to assist your recovery. Before you are discharged, you will need to demonstrate that you can handle any normal activities that you might need to do at home, such as bathing, dressing, and climbing stairs. You will also need to have regular bowel and bladder functions. If you have had more complex spinal surgery, you may need to spend some time on a rehabilitation unit. This will provide you with additional nursing support and therapy prior to going home.
Recovering at Home
When you are discharged from the hospital, you will need someone to drive you home. Most patients can ride in the front passenger seat on the way home. Once you are at home, it is important that you have help as needed with everyday activities such as cooking, cleaning, necessary errands, and personal care. You may be given special tools to aid your at-home progress, including products to help you bathe, use the toilet, and get dressed safely. Some patients may need to wear a brace after surgery to keep the spine stable and promote healing.
During your recovery, you should have realistic goals about your return to everyday activities. You will need to rest more than usual and conserve your body’s energy for healing. You can speed up recovery and contribute to your overall well-being by continuing to eat a healthy diet, refrain from smoking, and incorporate some activity such as walking every day. It is also helpful to receive plenty of support from family and friends during this time.
Some patients will be able to return to work or school quickly, while others will require an extensive period of rehabilitation and restricted activity. We will discuss with you the expectations for your individual situation, so that you are prepared for your recovery. Please be sure to follow our instructions carefully, and let us know if you have any questions.