Scoliosis is not just an inconvenience; this condition can limit your daily activities and chip away at your self-confidence indefinitely. Luckily, with advances in surgical techniques and interventions, it’s possible to live a life free of the associated limitations and complications. As with any surgery, though, scoliosis surgery is only as successful as its recovery. When you’ve undergone this life-changing procedure, it’s important to know what to expect as you heal. Below is a general timeline of what to expect and when on your journey back to health.
What Happens Before and After Surgery
Prior to your surgery, your doctor will be able to give you a general scoliosis surgery recovery timeline. This will allow you to plan accordingly and help you focus more on healing rather than fixating on minor details. Depending on the complexity of your surgery, your doctor will decide how long you will need to remain in the hospital after surgery. In some cases, it’s two or three days, although it can be a bit longer.
Many hospitals ask that you be ready and available to prepare for your surgery early in the morning. Each case is different, but expect to abstain from taking in food and liquids for a set period of time prior to your surgery (typically 12 hours).
Once your surgery is finished, you’ll be moved to a recovery area where you’ll be monitored until you’re fully out from under the anesthetic. At this point, you’ll likely be moved to your room, where you’ll spend the first part of your recovery.
The First Two Days
The first couple of days following your scoliosis surgery, you’ll need to get plenty of rest. You’ll be closely monitored and administered pain medication as needed. Pain medications will be adjusted by day two, when you will likely be transitioned to oral medications. Your physical therapist will start asking you to perform normal movements such as standing, walking and sitting by the as early as the first day after surgery.
The Rest of the Week
By this point, your doctor and team will tell you when you can expect to go home or whether you will need in patient rehab. You won’t need nearly as much pain medication for pain management. The decision may or may not be made to send you to an on-site rehab unit, where you would get more intensive therapy for several days before your discharge. At this point, you’ll resume a normal diet, performing some very minor tasks (such as brushing your teeth and hair, dressing, etc). During this period you may also be tapered off most of your pain medication.
Long-Awaited Discharge Day
You’ve made it through the first segment and you’re going home! Discharge day will consist of paperwork being signed, instructions on at-home care and any exercises you will need to be doing on your own. You’ll also receive prescriptions for any medications you might need for further recovery. You still won’t be able to drive yourself at this point, so you’ll need to arrange for someone to pick you up.
The First Month After
Weeks 1 and 2: Although you may feel like you need to be getting a tremendous amount done, pace yourself once you’re home. You’ll find you tire easily, though this is normal. Your body is hard at work repairing and healing itself. For the first couple of weeks having someone to help with meals, laundry, dishes and other tasks that might tire you out would be especially helpful.
Incision wound care is incredibly important; it’s integral that it be kept dry, clean and well-tended. If you have any questions or concerns about your specific wound care needs, be sure to discuss them with your doctor prior to discharge.
You’ll most likely be starting a therapy program at this point, including a lot of walking. Physical therapy is essential so that your health can regularly be assessed and you can work on any weaknesses. You’ll still need to adhere to the 8-lb limit (or whatever your doctor determines) and not lift anything heavier.
Weeks 3 and 4: You’ll now be gaining strength and mobility at this point. Your wound will be almost completely healed up, and you’re likely moving swiftly along your scoliosis surgery recovery timeline. At this point it is also likely that you will be becoming more active. Although it is tempting to do more, be sure to adhere to your restrictions. You may be able to return to work in this timeframe, and your energy will start to return.
Month 2 – One Year Checkup
Weeks 6 – 11: Your activity level will increase again by this point. After your six-week check up, you may be cleared for more strenuous activities, including a light exercise program. Assessments will be made and you’ll be given a longer look at what will need to be accomplished in your upcoming progress.
Month Three: It is fairly standard to have the next office visit three months following your surgery. At this appointment, you can expect to have some X-rays taken and for your physical activity to be increased, if not completely unrestricted.
Month Six: At this point, your life is probably completely back to normal. You may even be able to do more than you did prior to your scoliosis surgery. Your doctor may or may not want to take more X-rays. You may be asked to follow a specific exercise regimen to help maintain and improve upon your already significant results.
The One-Year Mark: You’ll attend regular annual visits with your doctor, making sure you’re on the right track. By your one-year visit, you’ve likely resumed a completely normal lifestyle and are enjoying the freedom your scoliosis surgery has afforded you. Your one-year visit is also a good time to revisit your exercise regimen.
In the grand scheme of things, the investment you make recovery time from scoliosis surgery is well worth the lifetime of relief you’ll experience.