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As one of the leading surgeries for spinal stability, spinal fusion is frequently used in conjunction with discectomy. If your surgeon has recommended that you have spinal fusion after discectomy, it’s helpful to know what is entailed and what you can expect during recovery.

What is spinal fusion after discectomy?

Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure used to help stabilize portions of the spine. Your surgeon may use bone grafts, allografts, synthetic matrix and instrumentation such as screws, rods or plates to help in this stabilization process.

Spinal fusion after discectomy is carried out following a discectomy procedure. Discectomy is the partial or full removal of one or more of the intervertebral discs that are situated between vertebrae. Once the disc has been removed, it may be necessary to provide additional support and protection to that portion of the spine.

A “bridging” of bone (or combination of materials) is created between two or more vertebra. This will eventually grow into a solid column of bone that will provide the desired strength and stability.

In the case of a discectomy with fusion, the fusion is used to stabilize the spine between the two vertebrae where the disc once existed..

Luckily, the majority of fusions are carried out via less invasive means using specialized surgical instruments. This minimizes tissue trauma and allows for a quicker, less painful healing process.

Recovering from spinal fusion

The recovery process from spinal fusion after discectomy begins as soon as your incisions are closed. Your body will begin to recognize the need to repair tissues and bring blood and other necessary cells to the area.

Day of Surgery

Following your surgery, you’ll be moved to a recovery area. Here you will be under constant monitoring until you’re awake. During this process, pain medications will be administered to help ensure you remain comfortable. When it’s determined you’re stable you’ll be transferred to a room.

Your Hospital Stay

Most people that undergo spinal fusion after discectomy can expect to spend anywhere from one to three days in the hospital. During this time, your condition will be assessed and your healthcare team will help to manage your pain, as well as get you up and walking again. This usually happens on the same day as your surgery.

While you’re in the hospital, you can also expect to be transitioned from intravenous pain medications to oral medications. You’ll also be given exercises that will help keep your muscles limber while you recover.

Going Home

Once you’re home you’ll need to take it easy. You’ll feel more tired than usual; this is due to the anesthetic wearing off and the fact that your body is actively healing. It’s a good idea to have someone to help you with daily activities such as household chores, cooking and driving.

If you smoke tobacco, continue to abstain. Tobacco use can slow if not completely arrest the growth of new, healthy bone tissue.

Be sure to get plenty of rest. Taking short, low-impact, frequent walks will help keep your muscles toned and your circulation moving. It’s also recommended that you avoid alcohol and eat a balanced diet rich in protein (unless existing dietary restrictions exist). Take your pain medications as prescribed; skipping doses can allow pain to build and it will be more difficult to get it back to tolerable levels.

If you have small children or pets, be sure to find someone that can help provide care. You will be restricted from lifting anything over 5 pounds. (This is the average; your doctor will give you the specifics before you leave the hospital).

After the first five to seven days, you can expect that you will have more energy. You may also be experiencing much less pain. While it may be tempting to completely quit taking your pain medications, it’s important to follow your doctor’s orders and take them as directed.

Weeks 2 – 4

When you enter your second week of recovery you can expect that you will feel much more energetic. At this point, you can resume some of your regular activities.

Around the end of your second week after surgery, you will need to return to your doctor for a follow-up. At this appointment, your incisions will be checked and then imaging will be done of the surgery site to ensure things are healing properly. It’s vital that you attend this appointment to make sure that things are progressing as they should.

Many people in light-duty jobs (such as desk work) are able to return to work around the third week. Whether or not you are able to return to work will be determined by your surgeon during your first follow-up. If you work in a high-impact job, you can expect to return to work after the sixth week.

Weeks 5 – 8

This is typically the period of time when you will begin physical or occupational therapy if your doctor has prescribed it. At this point, you’ll likely be feeling more like your old self.

Lifting and activity restrictions are often less stringent after the sixth week, making it possible to resume many of your activities. Be sure to consult with your doctor on which restrictions are removed or lessened so you can avoid injuring your spinal fusion site.

Week 9 and onward

Continue to follow your doctor’s recommendations. While your surgery site is externally healed, there is still a lot of bone repair taking place within your spine. Your follow-up appointments are vital to a successful recovery.

You can expect full recovery around or after six months. If your surgeon feels your recovery time may be longer or shorter, he or she will discuss this with you and help you plan accordingly.

Spinal fusion after discectomy may be just the key to getting back to the active lifestyle you love.