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Spinal fusion recovery time

Hi, I'm just wondering if you could tell me what the average recovery time is for a spinal fusion (degenative discs L4 & L5) would be. Also how successful the procedure is/any information on it.

22 August 2019

This content was last reviewed in August 2019 by Nikki Porges, a registered nurse in our Health at Hnad team.

Spinal Fusion is the process where two or more of the spinal vertebrae are joined together in order to provide stability to the spine and therefore your back.

There are a number of ways in which this procedure can be done and the decision will very much depend on the cause and severity of your condition.

The operation can take a number of hours and will often involve fusing the vertebrae together using a metal implant or bone.

The surgery can be performed in a number of ways, but usually involves gaining access from the front or the back of the body. Some procedures will use a combination of both access points, with others gaining access from the side of the body.

Success of the fusion is usually obtained but depending on the severity of your condition, full pain relief may not always be possible.

A successful fusion is very much dependant on the recovery period and the patient's lifestyle choices, as well as a skilful surgeon.

Recovery from a spinal fusion does take time as not only do you have to recover from the surgical procedure but you also have to rehabilitate yourself gradually and allow time for the body to restore itself and the bones and grafts to merge together and heal.

In order to aid your recovery it's important that you follow the recovery pathway closely and use any equipment recommended, such as a back brace in order to build up your stamina and strength gradually.

You will be encouraged to mobilise quickly following surgery in order to ensure that risks of blood clots, and complications are minimised.

Physiotherapy will also be encouraged and you'll be given exercises to help with your mobility and movement. The physiotherapist should be involved with your care from the time you have your procedure performed.

Initially you will be advised to take things slowly and gradually build up the amount you do, carry and exercise.

Recovery takes about 3 months but the healing and the bone healing and full recovery process can take up to a year.

You can usually start returning to driving once you feel that you can perform an emergency stop without causing injury to yourself.

You may feel able to return to work after about 6 weeks, depending on your job requirements.

Your physical well being will also have a big impact on the way your body heals and recovers. It would be advisable if possible to lose any excess weight prior to your operation and ceasing smoking (if applicable) is encouraged too. Nicotine can inhibit the way a bone heals. It would also be good to have been exercising and improving your core muscle strength as well prior to the operation.

Your surgeon should go through with you about the various types of surgery methods and the recovery time as well as the potential side effects that can occur.

It is important that you understand fully all the implications before you have the surgery performed. This will also allow you time to ensure that provision for your aftercare is considered and arranged as necessary.

Some useful websites that will provide you with further information regarding types of procedure, implications and side effects and the recovery from spinal fusion are:

WedMD - spinal fusion

NHS - Lumbar decompression surgery

Spine health - spinal fusion

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