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Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine has an abnormal curvature. While it can be debilitating in its more severe forms, it is effectively treatable with surgery. Scoliosis surgery is normally a fusion, during which one or more bone grafts will be placed in your spine to give it stability and a more proper alignment.

Once you’ve made the decision to undergo scoliosis surgery, you’ve taken the first step toward a healthier, more comfortable life. Scoliosis surgery recovery can be a long process, but by learning more about it, you can feel more at ease and understand ways to improve your outcome. The following is an overview of the timeline for scoliosis surgery recovery.

Days 1-3

The day of surgery will consist mostly of rest. Your attendants may ask you to wiggle your fingers and toes to make sure that your motor function is normal. In order to manage your pain, you will be given access to patient-controlled analgesia (PCA). PCA is a pump or a button that you can operate to administer yourself a dose of analgesia — usually morphine or dilaudid — whenever you feel pain. Once you no longer require PCA, you will be given a prescription for oral painkillers.

For about two or three days after the operation, a tube will be near your wound to drain excess fluid and a urinary catheter will be in place. Depending on your condition, during that time you may also be encouraged to get up and walk lightly with the assistance of your nurses. It’s normal to avoid eating for two or three days after the operation, as your digestive system will have slowed down. You will gradually progress from sipping clear liquids to eating solid food throughout the first week or two.

Days 4-7

During the end of your first week post-operation, your movement and independence will continue to progress. Most patients are allowed to be discharged from the hospital by the end of this first week. Some people can be discharged home, but many people require a short stay at a rehabilitation facility. Criteria for discharge include whether you are free of illness and infection, the status of fluid drainage from the wound, and whether you can eat, urinate and walk around independently.

By the seventh day, you will also be allowed to shower, provided you cover the surgical wound with plastic wrap and tape to prevent water exposure. To ensure your safety during this sensitive period of your recovery, it’s recommended that you have someone nearby to monitor you while you shower for at least the first two or three weeks.

Weeks 2-4

You will have a check-up with your surgeon and an x-ray scan within the first month to observe the progress of your scoliosis surgery recovery. You can anticipate being out of work or school for several weeks. It’s recommended that you notify your employer or your school that you will be undergoing surgery so that they can make the appropriate accommodations.

During this time, your surgeon can advise you on your specific physical restrictions. In general, though, you should minimize bending, twisting and lifting for several months after your scoliosis surgery. Also avoid frequent car rides and transportation, as these can put stress on a healing spine. Being conscious of the sensitivity of your back throughout the postoperative period can improve your chances of a fast and complete recovery.

Months 2-6

Often, at around three months, you will have another check-up with an x-ray. Movement restrictions will be in place until around six months, at which point most patients are allowed to resume all activities. The only exceptions to this are certain sports that may be particularly strenuous. Your doctor will be able to take into account your specific condition and advise you accordingly.

Months 6-24

During your six month checkup and x-ray, your doctor will advise you on any physical restrictions that may still be in place. High impact  activities and sports that put strain on the spine may be limited for up to a year, as bone fusions typically reach full strength one year after scoliosis surgery. As for the vast majority of everyday activities, however, you will be able to perform them at six months.

From six months until two years post-operation, your doctor will likely require periodic check-ups to make sure your scoliosis surgery recovery is moving along as expected. During these check-ups, he or she will take x-rays to observe the fusion and talk with you to answer any questions you may have about the health of your back as you move forward. Take advantage of these visits to resolve any doubts or curiosities you may have about your spine.

Final Thoughts

Scoliosis surgery recovery requires time and effort. Your spine is a complicated part of your anatomy, so you must carefully adhere to your surgeon’s advice to ensure that it heals properly and completely. You can use this guide to supplement discussions with your doctor in order to learn and feel more comfortable about your scoliosis surgery recovery.
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