Recovering from Scoliosis Surgery

Spinal fusion for scoliosis is typically classified as a major medical procedure that takes significant time from which to recover. In fact, most patients do not enter the full recovery zone until 6 to 12 months after their procedure. Of course, patients can achieve this timeline more readily if they take all the necessary precautions beforehand and follow doctor’s orders during the healing process.

To ensure your speediest recovery, have your doctor regularly check up on your progress after your procedure. Remember, the recovery timeline is only a rough estimation of how things will go for the average person. In reality, there could be any number of factors that could inhibit or even advance this process. Therefore, having your health monitored during this time is vitally important. Knowing exactly where you stand during recovery will help you understand which activities you should avoid or embrace.

Scoliosis comes in many different forms. Pediatric scoliosis is more common than adult scoliosis, as the skeleton is still growing and developing. This makes it more common for health issues to develop during these dramatic changes. While scoliosis can be broken down into further subcategories, the condition is usually split into either congenital or idiopathic scoliosis. The former involves a situation in which scoliosis is present at birth, while “idiopathic” simply describes a health condition that arises spontaneously for no apparent cause. It is important to note, however, that no matter which category you fall into, the recovery path for spinal fusion is the same across the board.

Things to Avoid Before Scoliosis Surgery

There are a variety of factors that affect your body’s ability to heal. Some of these issues are preventable, while others are entirely unavoidable. For example, older patients with pre-existing health conditions will have a much harder time recovering from surgery than teens and young adults. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to combat aging. However, there are some factors that you may be able to control before your procedure:

  • Obesity: For some people, this is harder to deal with than it is for others. That being said, we do know that obese patients have a much harder time recovering from a surgical procedure than the rest of the general population. The risk of complications both during and after the procedure are also much higher for this group of people.
  • Smoking: This also includes any other form of nicotine ingestion, such as patches, gum, vaping, secondhand smoke, and more. Nicotine is known to inhibit bone growth, which directly affects healing after fusion. Quitting is never easy, but patients should strive to wean off of any form of tobacco before undergoing fusion surgery.
  • Depression: Again, this is another factor like aging that is very hard for some patients to control. That being said, patients should take all avenues that are available to them for treating their depression before a surgical procedure. Depression tends to affect recovery, because it inhibits your will to follow healthcare regimens of any kind. And, recovering from a major surgery involves following a pretty strict series of instructions and maintaining a positive outlook.

Planning for Spinal Fusion Surgery

Before beginning your recovery process, you should make sure that you have made preparations at your home beforehand—especially if help is going to be limited. Think of tasks that you perform every day and try to eliminate the more strenuous aspects of these activities. For example, keeping a lot of frozen food on hand can cut down on arduous food preparation. You should also consider purchasing a toilet seat riser during the beginning of the timeline, as this will make trips to the bathroom much more comfortable. Additionally, it is important to ensure that your living space is clean and hygienic, in order to avoid the possibility of postoperative infection.

The First 14 Days After Discharge

During the first portion of the patient’s return home, he or she will need the help of a friend or family member to assist with daily living activities. Additionally, the patient will need a driver to assist with transportation, but should limit car rides whenever possible. The patient will be under the influence of strong medications and feel very weak. Therefore, rest is also extremely important during this phase.

There are also certain forms of movement that you should avoid. For one, you should try not to bend your back whenever possible. Doctors consider bending at the knees and hips to be viable alternatives when bending is necessary. Additionally, the patient should also avoid lifting anything above 8 pounds. This is where having an in-home helper can come in especially handy during the healing process. Lastly, the patient should avoid any motions that involve twisting the spine. This happens most naturally in the morning when the patient gets out of bed. Therefore, a conscious effort should be made to avoid injury during this time specifically.

Another important factor to consider during this period is incision site care. When the patient initially returns home, it is fine for him or her to take showers regularly under the condition that he or she covers the wound site while bathing. It is also important during this time to avoid using any creams or powders around the site of the incision to avoid irritation.

Two Weeks to Three Months After Discharge

At this point, some of the restrictions begin to lift during the recovery process. The incision wound from the surgery has healed to the point where the risk of infection is low enough to allow for the submersion of the surgical site in the water again. Additionally, your doctor will transition you off of narcotic medication and replace it with acetaminophen. This is really what opens up doors for the patient at this point during the process. Being off of these stronger pain medications will allow the patient to go out more with friends, albeit in a limited capacity.

At around six weeks, your doctor will take x-ray images of the spine to observe the development of fusion. During this time, you will still have low energy levels, but the spine will be healed to the point where even more restrictions may be lifted. For example, if things are going well, your doctor may allow you to drive again. However, most surgeons recommend that the patient undergo physical therapy beforehand. This will allow your PT to calculate pain levels, coordination, and reaction time prior to driving.

But of course, all of this depends on the individual. Everyone has different pain tolerances and idiosyncrasies that affect recovery. That being said, if you have a sedentary desk job or go to school, you may be able to return to those activities during this time depending on your progress.

Six to Twelve Months After Discharge

Somewhere during this period of the recovery process, your doctor will x-ray your spine to see if the fusion has been fully realized. In this event, you’ll be able to return to all daily activities. Your doctor will lift all prior restrictions.

Of course, there may still be some activities that are either no longer feasible or require modification to perform. All of this depends on the way the spine fused after the procedure. Because of the way fusion works, a portion of the back will probably not bend as it once did. Therefore, certain activities such as full contact sports, certain dance moves, or even everyday postures may no longer be possible to the extent that they once were.

It is also important to note that although the patient may be able to return to all previous activities, he or she should still practice good habits for the rest of their life. For instance, the patient will need to maintain good posture, bend at the knees when lifting, and never, ever resume smoking.

Contact Us

Is your scoliosis severe enough to warrant a surgical procedure? Unfortunately, there is no real way to tell without consulting a qualified expert first. If you have scoliosis, please contact our practice at (855) 220-5966. Dr. Jason Lowenstein is one of the industry’s leading experts in the field of scoliosis surgical care. If you are worried about going under the knife, just understand that you literally could not be in better hands. Our doctors will work tirelessly to ensure that you are put on an individualized care plan that suits your needs. Contact us today!