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Anyone had spinal fusion?

I am going to have a spinal fusion operation (only a couple of vertebrae) and I would love to hear from anyone who has had this op.

As I live on my own I am wondering how I will manage. How mobile will I be? How long before I am able to get out and about? Is there a time limit on not being able to lift things? How do I cover the dressings in the shower as there does not seem to be a commercial covering for my lower spine? How much pain? How do I lay in bed comfortably?

Anything that you could tell me about how you were when you came out of hospital and any tips would be appreciated.


9 Replies

Hi Jo, I've not had spinal fusion but a friend of mine had a really badly curved spine with Ankylosing Spondylitis, she had her's straightened and fused, she had to wear a plaster cast round her body for 18 mths after surgery (but I must emphasise her's was to straighten her spine.

Speak to the hospital team, make an appointment to go into the ward and speak to the ward sister, I'm sure she'll be happy to put your mind at rest, I'd also advise you to inform the care team your single and have no one at home to look after you, it may mean staying in hospital a little longer. Also, during the recovery period you'll not be able to do anything so ensure you ask for an OT home assessment prior to discharge, this must be carried out to provide home support for as long as you need it.

Sorry I can't give more info but I've attached a link with some information about this type of surgery.

Good luck, hope all goes well and you have a speedy recovery.

Beth xx


Thank you, Beth, for your answer and info. It was really useful. Jo


Hi Joan, Yes, I have had spinal fusions, for Spinal Stenosis. 8 times, including my neck.

In general, you really won't be Immobile, Physical Therapy will visit you before and after surgery. After the first day post-op, they will have you sit up on the edge of the bed, then stand a few minutes with their support, working towards walking to the bathroom, sitting up in the recliner in the room, using a walker to walk out into the hall, all the things you would need to be able to do on your own eventually. But while you are in the hospital, they won't want you to try doing anything by yourself.

Now. The fact you live alone does make a difference. I live alone, and have for 4 of the 8 surgeries. I stayed in the hospital for about 5 days, and as long as I could get myself to the bathroom, and was able to walk around the hall with a walker, they let me go home. I had purchased several frozen meals, like Lean Quisine and the Weight Watcher's Smart Ones. So all I had to do was Microwave them.

I was released after having been fitted with a corset-type back brace. They wouldn't let me stand without it, so had to wait a day for that co. to bring one after taking measurements. That may depend on what level your vertebrae are at. A couple times I didn't need a brace. But actually feel more secure with one.

The fusions varied a bit too. Some had bone harvested from the top of the pelvic bone and placed in the spinal column to space the vertebrae and allow them to fuse. Other times, it has been fused with titanium rods, plates and screws. My entire spine is fused, from the sacrum up to level Thoracic 11. Then there is a space of about 4-5 vertebrae that are open, then my neck is fused from cervical level 3 to level 7, with a plate and screws. Oddly, this does not impair me much at all.

My last spine surgery was 6 years ago. Then, because I lived alone and my son, a Family Practitioner, conversed with the Ortho surgeon and they decided to send me from the hospital to the Rehab Hospital. Best thing I could have done. The rehab time was much shorter, I did not have to do anything but work on getting back to normal. Had no laundry to do, no meals to prep, no dishes to wash, etc.

Went to PT and OT twice a day. The nurses made sure we all had our pain meds an hour before we were scheduled to go to the gym, so we could more easily move about.

The best part is the results have all been very favorable. I was able to return to work after all but the last 3. Then I retired early.

I hope I have not alarmed you, it was never a bad experience. The best advice I can give you is to go with the flow of things, do what is instructed, there is a reason for each. Let everyone do whatever they can for you, and enjoy the attention. It won't last :)

Please let me know if I can tell you any more. and please let me know when you are scheduled and where, etc. All the best to you. In the meantime, relax and enjoy the holidays. God bless. Loret


PS You won't be allowed to shower until the sutures are removed and the incision healed. They will tell you all of that.


Thank you so much Loret for your message. I have been trying to find someone who has had a spinal fusion (you must be the Queen of Spinal Fusion) because only someone who has had it can really tell me what it is truly like afterwards.

I don't like the sound of not being able to shower until the sutures come out. That sound terrible. Yuk!!

I must admit I would love to go into a Rehab Hospital but that's not going to happen. If I am lucky I may get some help from Social Services but I won't hold my breath (so many cutbacks to the service).

How long was it before you could get out and about (without a car)? I already have crutches and a rollator because of my RA and needing 2 new knees as welI. I do a lot with Sheffield Theatres and cannot imagine life without my almost weekly dose of the theatre.

Also, can you lay in bed comfortably after the op. I know it will get better but I am wondering again how I will be when I go home (they say about 4 days in hospital)?

Thank you again for answering my message and I hope it's OK to contact you again soon.



Jo, You can still take "Hospital style" baths. Just can't get the back wet until it is healed Mostly just washing up from the sink.

You will be able to lay quite comfortably. You will be laying on your back when you wake up after surgery. Also, they will have you turn over on each side periodically, to avoid pressure bruises.

You might not be able to drive for a few weeks, but probably can go with someone else driving, as soon as you can get in and out of a car which Physio will make sure you can do.

You will be encouraged to walk frequently, so your Rollator will be handy. Crutches not so much because the use of crutches could pull on the vertebrae that were just fused. PT will start you walking with a walker, maybe canes. I liked the canes, got to walking with 2 canes much like a cross-country skier :)

Do you have the surgery scheduled yet? Anxiety is terrible to live with when you don't know what's going on. Stay in touch, enjoy the season Loret


Thanks Loret for further info. Sorry I haven't replied sooner but have been so busy. I went to see my Consultant last week and we talked about the 2 problems with my spine. One is a disc which is almost outside the vertebrae, in fact he said he had not seen one as bad. But as it is now not hurting a lot he is going to deal with the spondylolisthesis first and come back to that.

He told me about the fusion op - he will take the graft from the part of the vertebrae he removes, which is brilliant. (He said he found that people don't like it being taken from the hip!!!) The bad news was that he is worried about the bone fusing because of my RA, so he is contemplating doing a bigger op where he takes out the front section of vertebrae as well.

I think I stopped listening at this point.

We have left it that he will consult with his collegues and decide what to do and I have left it to him which op to do. The main problem with the bigger op is that there is more chance of nerve damage which worries me.

The best news was that he hopes to do this in January if he can get theatre time. If not, it will have to be April as I have many engagements in March that I do not want to miss (not after waiting 17 months to get something done with my back, a couple of months more will not make a difference). I'm keeping my fingers crossed for January though. He did point out that there are no guarantees with the surgery that it will improve things but I don't have much choice anyway as it is really affecting my life now.

It's interesting you mentioned canes. I had wondered if they would be a good idea as I actually see a few elderly people walking with then now. They look comfortable to use.

Thanks again. Have a wonderful Christmas and best wishes for 2012.




I am actually hours post op from a revision and fusion. I had L3-5 done 7 weeks ago but the L5 did not take so it was revised and taken to S1.

Even now i am better than before the sugery.

Basic rules for lumbar are no lifting over a couple of pounds, no bebding more than 30 degrees or twisting. Limit sitting to 20-30 min and progress slowly.

Best advise i can give is start isometrics on your TA muscle, obliques qyads and butt, and core. Simple squeezing and isolating. I used the rockport rehab site for a post op schedule but wish i jad done more prior to my first surgery.

The healthier and fitter you are in your trunk area the easier your recovery. When you walk suck in from the back of your stomach, pulling up from the anus inside. It makes all the difference. I used the Rockport orthopaedic site and you-tubed all the excersises by name and added physio demo.

Learn and practice log rolling. Move anything you use a lot up on a counter so you don't bend or twist. Put bottles of water in each room so they are there if you need them. Plan how you eill shower if you don't have someone to tape a piece of clingfilm over your dressing. If you aren't goid picking tjings up with your toes lol, you might invest in a reacher.

I take a small tote of fruit, sweets snacks and pain tablets with me to lie down so i wasnt up running every 5 min.

Slip on shoes for sure. And pace yourself. My husband works nights and sleeps all day so i am on my own most of the time.

And walk , walk, walk-several times a day.

You will be good as new in no time.

Hope this helps.

Unfortunately i had a pin mishapat L5 but even then i qas walking 1-2 miles day snd was ready to go back to work. Once i accepted changes in lifestylw and to pace, the rest falls into place.


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