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Recovery from surgery takes time and each person recovers at a different pace. After spine surgery, you can expect your back to feel stiff and sore. You will also likely feel tired and fatigued for several weeks.

You may have trouble sitting or standing in one position for very long and may need pain medicine in the weeks after your spine surgery. Plan periods of rest throughout the day, in between continuing your physical therapy program and following your doctor’s instructions.

This following gives you a general idea of which steps to take in your recovery period:

Soreness & Pain

After surgery it is normal to feel soreness and / or pain in the area of the incision. If need you should take pain medication. You can also use ice and other measures such as changing position or laying down to decrease pain. The goal of pain management is to make the pain manageable, not to make it go away completely.

Ice Packs

It is important to ice your back in the beginning to help with some of the swelling and help sore muscles that occurs from spine surgery. Ice packs applications should be limited to 15 or 20 minutes with at least 2 hours of rest in between to protect the skin.

DoctorPlan Tip: A gel pack can be made by placing liquid dish soap in a freezer Ziploc® bag until it is ½ to 2/3’s full. Place the bag flat on a freezer shelf to allow it to harden. It will form a gel that will conform to your body. It can be refrozen after you use it.

Rest/Sleep

Allow yourself to rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover. Sleep in any position that does not cause back pain. Remember to log roll in and out of bed as you did in the hospital. Lie on your back with a pillow under your knees. Lie on your side with a pillow between your knees.

Restrictions

  • If advised by your doctor, avoid bending, lifting or twisting your back for the next 2 weeks and your neck for the next 6 weeks. Instead, bend your knees and squat down to pick up something.
  • If advised by your doctor, do not lift, pushing or pulling objects heavier than 5 pounds that would cause excessive strain on your spine.
  • After spine surgery. This means you should not lift a laundry basket, grocery bags, or small children. You should also avoid lifting something above your head until your spine heals.
  • Try to change your position about every 30 minutes while sitting or standing. This will help decrease your back pain while you are healing.
  • No strenuous activity such as including vacuuming, yard work, housework and sex, bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Do not smoke, vape, dip, chew or use nicotine products. It prevents new bone growth and may slows the healing process.
  • Do not drive until after your follow-up appointment. You may ride in the car for short distances of 45 minutes or less if necessary.
  • Do not drink alcohol after spine surgery or while you are taking narcotic medication.

Incision Care

You will be given specific instructions about how to care for the cuts (incisions) the doctor made. The instructions will depend on the type of materials used to close the cut.

If you have Dermabond (a type of skin glue), an occlusive or waterproof dressing covering your incision, you may be able to shower the same day or the day after surgery – check with your doctor’s instructions. If you have staples, Steri-Strips or stitches, you may shower two days after surgery.

Here are some general instructions on how to properly bathe after spine surgery:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after cleaning your incision to prevent infection.
  • Remove the gauze dressing and gently wash the area with soap and water. Gently pat dry.
  • Replace the dressing or completely remove it if there’s no drainage.
  • Inspect and wash the incision daily.
  • Don’t soak in a bath, hot tub or pool until approved by your doctor
  • Don’t apply any lotions or ointments to the incision.
  • Some drainage from the incision is normal. A large amount of drainage, foul-smelling drainage or drainage that’s yellow or green should be reported to your doctor’s office.
  • If you have staples or stitches, they will be removed during your follow-up appointment.

Activity

Inactivity will cause you to stiffen up and will lead to more pain and discomfort. Try to establish a daily routine.

Walking is the ideal form of exercise during this period. Not only does it increase muscle strength to better support the healing spine, it helps the heart (boosts blood flow), lungs (prevent pneumonia), and digestive system (prevents constipation).

If possible, get up and walk 5-10 minutes every 3-4 hours. Gradually increase your walking time, as you are able and stop when pain flares up, may be the best approach.

The doctor may also recommend other exercises.

Bracing

Your doctor may require you to wear a brace after surgery while your back heals. During your hospital stay, you will be shown how to apply and take off the brace, as well as how to care for the brace and your skin. There are some cases in which a brace is not needed.

TED Socks

In some cases, your doctor may recommend you wear TED stockings throughout your hospital stay as well as two to three weeks after you are discharged from the hospital. These stockings help avoid leg swelling and clots.

More to Consider

Driving

Do not drive until discussed with your doctor. While you may feel immediate relief from your procedure, remember you shouldn’t drive until you’re no longer taking any prescription pain medications or have movement restrictions. You may want to arrange for a family member or friend to assist you for a period of time after your surgery or until your doctor say it’s ok for you to drive.

Note: Travel only for short distances as a passenger in a car. If you must ride in a car for a longer distance, stop often to walk and stretch your legs.

Diet

You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.

Drink plenty of fluids

You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. If advised by your doctor, take a fiber supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.

Sex

Ask your doctor if you may have sex. They may ask you to avoid positions that put stress on your spine or cause pain. Remember during sex like other activities, follow your neutral spine precautions.

Returning to Work

The length of your recovery also depends on how bad your condition was before spine surgery.

Disclaimer – All information is for educational pursuit and information purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The viewer should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding their medical condition, diagnosis, procedures, treatment plan, or other health related topics.