Steps For Faster And Easier Spinal Fusion Surgery Recovery

Spinal fusion is a relatively common surgical procedure used for spinal conditions and deformities. It’s widely used to prevent spinal instability after spinal decompression surgery, which may be used for spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, herniated disc, and related medical concerns. 

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Regrettably, spinal fusion surgery involves a lengthy recovery period that can last from six months to a year in total. With this in mind, many patients seek out ways to shorten their recovery and get back on their feet faster. 

In this article, we’ll explore strategies for shortening your spinal fusion surgery recovery and maintaining lasting pain relief. 

How To Get Prepared For Lumbar Spinal Fusion Surgery?

Preparing for lumbar spinal fusion is the first (and arguably most important) step in shortening your spinal fusion recovery. Here are our best tips to ready yourself for the procedure:

  1. Talk to your doctor about every medication and supplement that you’re currently taking. This includes not only prescription drugs but also over-the-counter medications and even herbal supplements. Patients may be required to stop taking specific medications before fusion to ensure that the procedure and their recovery process go off without a hitch. 
  2. If you smoke, quit as soon as possible. Smoking is detrimental to the body’s healing process, increases the risk of complications, and diminishes the success rate of spinal fusion. You can consult your physician for resources to help you quit smoking, as well as your loved ones for support. 
  3. Optimize your diet. Consuming a nutrient-dense, fiber-rich diet before and after spinal fusion promotes healing and prevents constipation, which can be caused by prescription pain medications. Limit processed, high-fat, and high-sugar foods. 
  4. Prep your kitchen with ready-made and throw-together meals. Make sure that everything you’ll need in the kitchen is on a shoulder-height shelf, as you won’t be able to reach or bend after the spinal fusion procedure. 
  5. Gather any equipment that you may need, such as a cane, toilet seat riser, and reacher tool. 
  6. Ask friends and family members for support. You’ll need a ride home from the hospital after the procedure, and it may be helpful to have a loved one stay with you for assistance during the first few days at home. You can also contact an in-home caregiver to help you during this period.  

How Long After Spinal Fusion Does It Stop Hurting?

After lumbar spinal fusion, the most severe pain typically abates after four weeks. Following this benchmark, you may still experience pain, but it should gradually diminish with time.

Patients may continue to feel some degree of pain three to six months after spinal fusion. Physical therapy and healthy lifestyle habits can help you manage this pain as you recover from the procedure. 

How Can You Make Your Lumbar Spinal Fusion Heal Faster?

There are a handful of ways to accelerate healing after spinal fusion, including:

  • Following all of your surgeon’s recommendations. After the fusion procedure, your surgeon will offer basic guidance on what to do and what to avoid. Following these instructions carefully will benefit your recovery process. 
  • Keeping a close eye on the incision. Identifying signs of inflammation, irritation, or discoloration as soon as possible will help ensure that any complications are addressed promptly. 
  • Staying mobile after the procedure. While following all of your doctor’s guidance, get up and walk around during your spinal fusion recovery. Doing so will keep blood circulating throughout your body, prevent atrophy, and reduce your risk of blood clots. 
  • Refraining from smoking. As important as it is to quit smoking before spinal fusion, it’s also crucial to avoid smoking throughout your recovery process, as smoking can speed up spinal degeneration. 

What Foods Are Good For Healing After Spinal Fusion Surgery?

As mentioned in a prior section, high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods are ideal for patients undergoing spinal fusion. Here are other dietary recommendations to consider after spinal fusion surgery:

  • Pack your diet with lean protein. 

Protein is essential for healing after surgery. So, pack your diet with plenty of low-fat protein, including poultry, fish, lean meat, eggs, low-fat dairy, and tofu. As a bonus, foods that are high in protein also typically contain high amounts of zinc, which supports your body’s ability to fend off infection. 

  • Pair fiber-rich foods with plenty of water. 

To prevent constipation after spinal fusion, eat fiber-rich foods including vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Prunes and prune juice are also helpful, as they act like natural laxatives. Make sure to wash down these foods with plenty of water to support your digestive system during the recovery period. 

  • Consume more calories. 

After spinal fusion surgery, your metabolism kicks into high gear to accommodate the body’s healing process. To fulfill this heightened demand, you’ll need to consume more calories, ideally through nutritious foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. 

Are There Any Permanent Restrictions After Spinal Fusion?

The spinal fusion procedure permanently fuses the targeted vertebrae of the spine. This process also permanently eliminates all motion at the affected segment. So, patients do experience permanent restrictions on their mobility, such as an inability to twist, bend, and lift heavy objects. 

In some cases, patients need a reacher tool to retrieve objects from the floor or on high shelves after spinal fusion. With a significant loss of spinal flexibility, patients may lose the ability to participate in some of their favorite physical activities. 

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Should I Consider Avoiding Spinal Fusion?

The lost mobility, risk of complications, and lengthy recovery period associated with spinal fusion lead many patients to consider avoiding lumbar spinal fusion altogether. While in past decades this may have been a challenge, there are currently spinal fusion alternatives available to the public. 

Non-fusion spinal implants like Premia Spine’s TOPS System provide stability after spinal decompression surgery without fusing the vertebrae. This results in a controlled range of motion without the extensive recovery and lost mobility of fusion. 

Before undergoing fusion, don’t hesitate to contact your spine specialist to discuss every available treatment option for your spinal condition.