What to expect after a spinal fusion procedure

Back surgery recovery after spine fusion

Back surgery recovery after spinal fusion can be a long process, depending on the type of procedure performed. Traditional open spinal fusion is a highly invasive operation that often involves the cutting and detaching of the large muscles around the spine. Because these muscles play an important role in the overall strength and stability of the spine, the recovery process after surgery must include time for these muscles to rebuild and repair.

Before you undergo traditional open spinal fusion, you should have a meeting with your surgeon to talk about what you can expect after your specific surgery. Your surgeon should be able to give you some guidelines to follow, such as when you can drive again and some daily activities you can do to help your muscles and spine heal.

Why does traditional spinal fusion have a long recovery period?

Spinal fusion can be performed as a traditional open spine surgery. The purpose of spinal fusion surgery is to add stability to an area of the spine that is weak and painful, often caused by a herniated disc or another degenerative spine condition.

In order to perform the surgery, the surgeon must make a large incision through the back, cutting the muscles surrounding the spine. In some cases, these large muscles are temporarily detached from the body altogether in order to give the surgeon clear access to the spine. Once the damaged area of the spine is reached, the surgeon will fuse together the vertebrae surrounding the damaged disc using a small metal cage, rods and screws. This renders that area of the spine completely immobile.

Because this surgery is highly invasive, patients are required to spend the first several nights of recovery in the hospital to be monitored for infection, complication and severe blood loss. Once the patient is released from the hospital, the remaining recovery period could last several months to a year, depending on how long it takes for the fusion to set and the large muscles to rebuild. In some cases, the body rejects the fusion or the excessive scar tissue from the large incision prevents the fusion from setting. This could lead to a whole new problem and new forms of pain — a condition commonly referred to as failed back surgery syndrome.

The days that follow traditional open back fusion

Back surgery recovery after traditional open spinal fusion typically requires:

  • Several days of hospitalization. This ensures that the patient doesn’t immediately reject the fusion or experience postoperative complications, like infection or clotting.
  • Further recovery at home. Even after discharge, the patient is typically resigned to bed rest at home while the incision heals.
  • Physical therapy. Once the incision has healed, physical therapy is needed to regain full strength. This can last for months following the operation.
  • Pain. Because of the invasive nature of the operation, patients rarely experience immediate pain relief after a traditional open spinal fusion. In addition to the discomfort experienced from the operation, it can take months to feel the benefits of the surgery.

An alternative to open spine surgery

At Laser Spine Institute, we offer minimally invasive stabilization procedures that are safer and effective alternatives when compared to traditional open back fusion.^ Our surgeons are able to access and stabilize the spine while sparing the surrounding muscles. This lowers your risk of infection and complication, as well as reduces your recovery time compared to traditional open back fusion.^

Our procedures are performed on an outpatient basis and are used to treat the most common spine conditions, including herniated discs and bulging discs. Instead of completely immobilizing a section of the spine by fusing the vertebrae together, our surgeons simply remove the damaged disc and replace it with a surgical implant and/or bone grafts. This helps our patients to experience a more natural range of motion after surgery than patients who opt for traditional open back fusion.

To learn more about the different treatment options we offer, contact Laser Spine Institute today. Our team can provide you with a free MRI review* and help determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive outpatient procedures.