Orthopedist Beverly Hills

Recovery After Surgery

I am commonly asked how long the recovery takes after spine surgery and when the patient will be able to shower, walk, drive, get back to work etc. My answer will always depend on the specific operation, and everyone is different, but here are some general guidelines:

Lumbar (low back) procedures:

Posterior lumbar one or two-level fusions:

  • Week 1: walking on day 1; go home from the hospital on day 2-3; start showering day 2-3
  • Week 2: walking more normally, start tapering off of pain medications, post-op office visit 10-14 days after the surgery for a wound check. Start driving if off of narcotic pain medications.
  • Weeks 3-4: Most can drive by now. Return to work if a non-physical job.
  • Weeks 4-6:  Second post-op office visit at 6 weeks with first post-op XRAY
  • Weeks 6-12: Getting back to life as usual. Bone fusion should be complete at approximately 3-4 months in most people; Full recovery expected.

Posterior lumbar minimally-invasive decompression/microdiskectomy:

  • Week 1: Walking on day 1; go home from the hospital or surgery center on day 1 or 2; start showering day 2-3
  • Week 2: Walking more normally, start tapering off of pain medications, post-op office visit 10-14 days after the surgery for a wound check. Start driving if off of narcotic pain medications. Limit lifting to less than 10 lbs.
  • Weeks 3-4:  Driving by now. Return to work if a non-physical job. Limit lifting to less than 10 lbs.
  • Weeks 4-6:  Second post-op office visit at 6 weeks. Start physical therapy or exercise at the gym. Limit lifting to less than 10 lbs.
  • Weeks 6-12: Getting back to life as usual.  Full recovery expected. Limit lifting to 30lbs.

Anterior lumbar diskectomy and fusion:

  • Week 1: Walking on day 1; go home from the hospital on day 2-4; start showering day 2-3
  • Week 2: walking more normally, start tapering off of pain medications, post-op office visit 10-14 days after the surgery for a wound check. Start driving if off of narcotic pain medications.
  • Weeks 3-4:  Most can drive by now. Return to work if a non-physical job.
  • Weeks 4-6:  Second post-op office visit at 6 weeks with first post-op XRAY
  • Weeks 6-12: Getting back to life as usual. Bone fusion should be complete at approximately 3-4 months in most people; Full recovery expected.

Anterior lumbar disk replacement:

  • Week 1: walking on day 1; go home from the hospital on day 1-3; start showering day 2-3
  • Week 2: walking more normally, start tapering off of pain medications, post-op office visit 10-14 days after the surgery for a wound check. Start driving if off of narcotic pain medications.
  • Weeks 3-4: Walking is getting better, most can drive by now. Return to work typical if a non-physical job.
  • Weeks 4-6:  Second post-op office visit at 6 weeks with first post-op XRAY
  • Weeks 6-12: Getting back to life as usual, boney ongrowth to the implant typically complete; start physical therapy/gym exercise
  • Months 3-6: Full recovery expected.

Cervical (neck) procedures:

Anterior cervical disk replacement:

  • Week 1: walking on day 1; go home from the hospital on day 1-2; start showering day 2-3. Many patients have some sore throat and swallowing difficulty this first week.
  • Week 2: Improved swallowing. First post-op visit at 10-14 days for a wound check.Minimal neck pain expected, taper off of all narcotic pain medications. Driving is ok if off of pain medications. Return to work is usually possible by now.
  • Weeks 3-4: Getting back to normal life.
  • Weeks 4-6: bone healing to the implant typically complete or near-complete.
  • Weeks 6-12: Full recovery expected.

Anterior cervical diskectomy and fusion:

  • Week 1: walking on day 1; go home from the hospital on day 1-2; start showering day 2-3. Many patients have some sore throat and swallowing difficulty this first week.
  • Week 2: Improved swallowing. Minimal neck pain expected, taper off of all narcotic pain medications. Driving is ok if off of pain medications. Return to work is usually possible by now. First post-op visit at 10-14 days for a wound check.
  • Weeks 3-4: Getting back to normal life.
  • Weeks 4-6: Second post-op visit at 6 weeks, XRAY will be taken.
  • Months 3-6: Full recovery expected. Bone fusion usually complete at 3-4 months.

Posterior cervical microdecompression:

  • Week 1: Walking on day 1; go home from the hospital or surgery center on day 1 or 2; start showering day 2-3
  • Week 2: Start tapering off of pain medications, post-op office visit 10-14 days after the surgery for a wound check. Start driving if off of narcotic pain medications.
  • Weeks 3-4:  Driving by now. Return to work if a non-physical job. Neck pain resolving.
  • Weeks 4-6:  Second post-op office visit at 6 weeks. Start physical therapy or exercise at the gym.
  • Weeks 6-12: Getting back to life as usual.  Full recovery expected.

Posterior cervical fusion:

  • Week 1: Walking on day 1; go home from the hospital or surgery center on day 1 or 2; start showering day 2-3
  • Week 2: Start tapering off of pain medications, post-op office visit 10-14 days after the surgery for a wound check. Start driving if off of narcotic pain medications.
  • Weeks 3-4:  Driving by now. Return to work if a non-physical job. Neck pain resolving.
  • Weeks 4-6:  Second post-op office visit at 6 weeks. Start physical therapy or exercise at the gym. Repeat XR at 6 weeks.
  • Weeks 6-12: Fusion usually nearing completion during this time. Getting back to life as usual.
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