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Recovering from Spine Surgery

After surgery, pain and stiffness are common. Most patients experience a decrease in back pain immediately after the operation, but in some cases it may take longer. Numbness and tingling may be the slowest to resolve. Improvement in back pain and function can continue up to two years after spine fusion surgery. If pain is persistent or severe, call you doctor. Surgery places a lot of stress on your body’s reserves. Fatigue and discouragement are common symptoms. Narcotic pain medications may interfere with sleep patterns and cause some agitation.


Initially, take your pain medication on a regular basis, to keep the pain down to a reasonable level. Gradually decrease narcotic medications. Narcotics can cause constipation, so you will need a laxative or stool softener. Avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin, Motrin, Aleve) for the first few months. Continue with the pain medication prescribed by your physician, especially before physical activity. If pain is persistent or severe, call you doctor.


Get lots of rest, gradually increasing your walking to 30 minutes a day. Limit stairs and hills for the first two weeks. Do not lift anything heavier than five pounds (no heavier than a gallon of milk). Avoid bending, lifting or any repetitive motion. Do not drive until cleared by your surgeon and you are no longer on pain medication. When resting in bed, change your position every 45 minutes. Muscle cramps can be treated with medications or stretching. Returning to work and sports will depend on your particular procedure and recovery. Most patients can resume all activities after six months or sooner. Consult with your physician prior to starting any new activity or returning to work.

Wound Care

You should change dressings daily. Call your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • drainage from the incision site
  • persistent or worsening pain
  • urination or bowel movement problems
  • increased leg pain or swelling
  • fever greater than 101 degrees

If You Smoke

Smoking is a key factor that impacts recovery from spine fusion surgery. Nicotine inhibits the fusion process and dramatically increases your chances of the fusion failing and creating a nonunion of the bone at the surgical site. If you’re interested in a smoking cessation program, we can provide you with information during your stay. Ask your physician or nurse.

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