Before coming home from hospital make sure you’re clear about:
- how to care for your incision
- your level of activity
- driving (don’t forget to also check with your car insurance company in case they have any restrictions following an operation)
- symptoms for which you should seek further medical attention
- any changes to your regular medication
- what kind of exercise you can do
- how to manage pain
- how to manage constipation caused by painkillers
- when and how to have your stitches out if they’re not self-dissolving.
Caring for your incision
It’s important to keep your bandage over your incision clean and dry with the dressing intact. There may be some discharge from the incision but if the discharge increases or smells unpleasant, you should contact your surgeon.
Limitations on your activities
For the first 6 months after your surgery, your activities will be limited. Every surgeon will have slightly different post-op advice so listen carefully to their recommendations. You mustn’t try to bend past 90 degrees at the level of the fusion, or lift anything heavier than a brick. Avoid twisting your back excessively. Listen to your surgeon’s advice on these issues. Your physiotherapist can give you suggestions about the best way to do things without too much bending, lifting, or twisting. They would normally be involved between 2 and 6 weeks post-op.
You may find it difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position when you’re recovering from spinal fusion. It’s OK to sleep in any position you find comfortable, but you may have to experiment a bit. If you’re having problems, try elevating the head of your bed by putting some cushions underneath the mattress. When you’re lying on your back, try putting a pillow, rolled up towel or foam wedge under your knees. When you’re lying on your side, a pillow between your knees can help. Seek advice from your surgeon or physiotherapist at any of the scheduled appointments.
You may experience constipation after surgery. This can be due to the side effects of opioid painkillers, a change in your usual diet or a reduction in your usual activity levels. If you have problems, see your GP to check that you’re on the correct doses.
Returning to work
Follow your surgeon’s advice about how much time to take off work, particularly if your job is physically demanding. In some cases, you’ll be able to return to light duties as early as a few weeks.
Most insurance companies will stipulate that you wait 6 weeks as a minimum before driving unless your surgeon gives an earlier OK. Make sure your surgeon gives you written advice regarding driving.
Because you now have metal prostheses in your spine, dental procedures can put you at risk of infection for the first 3 months after your surgery. Try to avoid having dental work done during this time. If you must have work done, you’ll need to tell your dentist that you’ve had spinal fusion and ask for an antibiotic to take before the procedure.
It’s important that you follow-up with your surgeon after your surgery. You’ll need to schedule an appointment between 2 - 6 weeks after your surgery. The first post-op consultation is covered under the surgical fee.
Watching out for problems
You should call your surgeon if you experience:
- pain that suddenly gets worse around the wound or an arm or leg
- a change of sensation to your legs or back
- a loss or change in bowel or bladder control
- discharge or excessive bleeding from your incision
- redness or changes in the skin around your wound
- pain and swelling in your calf
- unexplained or sudden shortness of breath
- severe headache, nausea or vomiting
- any issues you’re worried about that your GP can't help you with.