The Post-Operative Guide to Recovering from Spine Surgery

Regardless of whether you are using surgical or non-surgical treatments, recovering from back pain can be a long road.

If you and your doctor determine minimally invasive spine surgery is right for you, the procedure itself is only the beginning. After the surgery comes the recovery. There is likely to be some pain and restricted movement in the days and weeks following surgery. Our clinicians will work diligently to ensure the quickest recovery times possible. The recovery periods following spine surgery can vary greatly depending on how extensive and invasive your procedure is. For example, the time it takes to recover from a laminectomy will likely be longer if you also received a spinal fusion along with the laminectomy.

The following post-operative guide will help you understand what to expect when recovering from spine surgery, and how you can make the recovery process easier for yourself.

Immediately After Waking Up From Spine Surgery

As with most surgical procedures, you can expect some pain and discomfort following your surgery. If you underwent an outpatient procedure, your doctor will monitor you for a little while then send you home with prescription medications to manage the pain. (Remember to plan a ride home.) If yours was an inpatient surgery, your post-operative process will be a bit more involved. You may be given an IV of medicine which you can administer as needed by pressing a button and you may stay in the hospital longer than an outpatient procedure to ensure proper recovery. A pain management team in the hospital may collaborate on helping you manage the pain.

Going Home After Spine Surgery

When you are released to go home, you’ll be instructed on how to take your medicines and how to change your dressings to protect against infection. You may also be given instructions how to move, how often to move, and how not to move. In some cases, the doctor may order you a back brace to help you keep your spine immobile while healing. For the first couple of days or weeks (depending on the extent of your procedures), it’s recommended to have someone at home with you to help with the daily routines you won’t be able to do yourself that involve lifting, twisting, and other activities. During this time period, it’s essential to monitor your incision for signs of infection. If you see an increase in drainage, redness/inflammation or swelling at the wound site, or if you develop a fever, talk to your doctor right away. Also, do not take a shower or bath, or get into a hot tub, until your incision has healed sufficiently and your surgeon clears you to do so. Until that time, you’ll need to take sponge baths.

Post-Op Exercise And Rehabilitation

The rehabilitation process begins almost immediately following surgery, even during a hospital stay. While you should not twist, bend or lift more than 5 pounds for up to 6 weeks following a spine procedure, you should begin walking as soon as possible. You may be assigned a physical therapist to help you, and depending on your situation, physical therapy may even begin before you leave the hospital. For recovering on your own, your doctor may prescribe certain stretches and exercises. Listen to your body and take breaks as needed, but keep moving as much as possible, including when you get home. This movement helps your circulation, strengthens your muscles and accelerates your recovery.

Resuming Regular Activities After Spine Surgery

Getting back to “normal” life takes a little time. If your surgery was an outpatient procedure, you should be able to resume most of your usual activities more quickly than for a more invasive surgery, but the timing is different for everyone. Many patients begin to resume their daily routine within a few weeks, but for major spine surgeries, it may take up to 2-3 months before the patient is ready to return to work. Your surgeon will monitor your progress and advise you when it’s okay to resume certain activities. When in doubt, ask. There are also a few common sense measures you can try to help speed up your spinal surgery recovery time, though your mileage may vary. Recovering from spine surgery is not always a painless process, but with a bit of patience and diligence, you can accelerate your recovery and get on with your life — hopefully with a higher quality of life as a result.


Polaris Spine is committed to providing each patient with the highest quality of post-operative care, not only during the procedure itself, but also on the road to recovery. To learn more, call us at 404.256.2633.

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