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Spine Surgery Recovery

Recovery is necessary to allow time for your tissues to heal. Recovery from any spine surgery depends on the patient’s level of fitness and activity before surgery. Age, weight, physical condition, diet and a healthy lifestyle all contribute to the length of recovery after surgery.

Length of recovery will depend on the extent of the patient’s surgery.

In the first weeks at home, you will be tired. The prescription is rest. Walking will be initiated the day after surgery and continue throughout your rehabilitation. In the early days, patients should resume a regular diet and seek to restore normal bathroom habits.

Pain and Muscle Spasms

Generally, it is normal to have pain and discomfort after spine surgery. Initially, patients may have pain at the site of the incision, or muscle spasms. Patients will receive a prescription for medication to control pain, muscle relaxers to reduce muscle spasms and possibly a prescription for antibiotics to prevent infection. The use of an ice pack on the incision and surrounding areas can help with the pain. Apply on top of clothing, not on bare skin. Use for no longer than 20 min. at a time.

As inflammation and nerve sensitivity resolves, which can take weeks or months, patients will be advised to taper off their pain medications. Do not take anti-inflammatory medications unless directed by your surgeon, as these can delay or interfere with healing.


Activities will be limited. Avoid bending, twisting, and lifting for a few weeks. It is important to avoid sitting or lying around all day. Light activity and periods of rest will help to relieve pain. The best medicine is daily walking, increasing the distance a bit each day. The patient’s activity level and exercises to strengthen abdominal and back muscles will be increased but still avoid excessive motion. It may take up to 3 months to return to a more intense exercise schedule after a laminectomy. A laminectomy with fusion will take up to 6 months before resuming a more intense exercise schedule.

After six months, most fusions are mature enough that restrictions can be removed or reduced.

But it may be closer to one year before recovery is complete.


Driving will be limited initially, especially until you are off of painkillers, usually 2-6 weeks after surgery.

Returning to work

Your OSNC surgeon will determine when you can return to work. Return to work will depend on how well you heal and the type of job. Non-strenuous work is fine after 4-6 weeks. If your work is strenuous, it may take up to 3 months before you can return to work.

GI and Urinary symptoms

  • Constipation is a common side effect of pain medications. While taking pain medications use a stool softener to help with regular, soft bowel movements. Eat a diet rich in fiber.
  • Nausea is common and may be due to the anesthesia or pain medications.
  • Urinary retention – the inability to fully void, can cause pain and should be evaluated.


A diet rich in protein. High protein intake is needed for proper healing. Eat small meals of nutritious foods.


You will have good and bad days. Healing requires a patient taking care of himself, and commit to a physical therapy program designed for each patient. Follow your post- operative visit schedule so that we can assess how you are healing.


Expect to recover function and return to activities when the bones are healed or about 3-4 months. Patients are encouraged to walk the day after surgery and it will take 6 weeks to 6 months to recover mobility and function. Being active can speed up your recovery.

If you see a physical therapist after surgery, you will receive exercises to do at home to improve your comfort and activity level. To avoid feeling stiff and sore, avoid sitting or standing for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. Walking is the best activity. Avoid heavy lifting, twisting, leaning even when doing every day jobs.

Laminectomy with fusion

Fusion surgery can require a hospital stay of 4-5 days. Typically, it can take from 3-6 months to recover from spinal fusion, including physical therapy. Increasing physical activity after a fusion will require restrictions for 6 months after surgery. It is vital to avoid strain and activities that can compromise the success of your surgery.

Young otherwise healthy patients may take 4-6 weeks to recover. For older patients, it can take 4-6 months to recover and get back to work. Whatever you do, it is vital to maintain a strong connection with your surgeon at OSNC. All patients receive post-operative instructions. It is wise to follow your doctor’s instructions. Commitment to working with and following instructions of your physical therapist can improve the pace at which you recover.

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