What to Expect From Lumbar fusion

Prior to Surgery

  • Talk to your doctor about any medications/vitamins/herbs you are taking as you may need to stop certain ones before surgery.
  • Let your doctor know if you could be or are pregnant.
  • Discuss any possible bleeding disorders or other medical conditions that you may have.
  • You will have blood samples taken in case you need a blood transfusion.
  • You may be asked to stop taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), lopidogrel (Plavix), warfarin (Coumadin), and other blood thinners.
  • Ask your doctor which drugs you should still take on the day of the surgery.
  • Do not smoke. This will help you to recover faster.

On the Day of the Surgery

  • You will usually be asked not to drink or eat anything after midnight the night before the surgery.
  • Take the drugs your doctor told you to take with a small sip of water.
  • Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to arrive at the hospital.
  • Wear comfortable clothing.

After Surgery

  • Most patients will remain in the hospital for a few days.
  • The surgical site in your back will be sore for a few days. Placing an ice bag on the site for 15 minutes each hour will help lessen the pain. Remember to use a cloth to ensure that the ice bag is not directly touching your skin.
  • You may have to wear a brace for the first few days.
  • You will be encouraged to walk as soon as you are able as this will help speed your recovery, prevent scar tissue from forming and help return mobility to your spine.
  • Most patients do not need extensive physical therapy, but do benefit from a consultation to learn how to perform exercises to strengthen the back.
  • You should be return to work at a desk job in a few days. It will take up to four months before you will be able to return to restricted activities. In some cases, it may be a year before you can return to all activities.

Recovery: what to expect in the next few weeks

Most patients will feel better within a couple of weeks; however, do not lift, push or pull any heavy objects until after your doctor says it is OK. It takes time for the fusion process. The bone graft must be incorporated and fuse the vertebrae together. You will have x-rays at intervals to check on the healing.


Lumbar Fusion Q&A

What do these procedures involve?

This minimally invasive procedure – using a series of tiny incisions to access the spine – fuses two or more vertebrae together to give strength and stability to the back. The procedure requires a bone graft, which is most often taken from the patient’s pelvis or hip. Screws and rods may also be inserted for additional support.

How long is the procedure?

It depends on the complexity of the repair and how many vertebrae are fused.

What is the recovery time?

Recovery is patient dependent, but allow for four months of restricted activities. In some cases, it takes a full year for the grafting to fully heal. Until then, patients should avoid certain activities. Your doctor can advise what you can expect based on your health status and on your expected surgical repair.

How do I know if this procedure will help my pain?

Fusion is a good treatment for many spinal conditions; however, it does not return your back to normal. Since the spine has motion between vertebrae, fusion does not allow for that level of mobility; however, your back will not be stiff after you have recovered. In some cases, patients may be encouraged to avoid twisting and lifting activities to reduce the strain on the fusion site.