What to Expect After Spinal Fusion Surgery

February 2, 2021

Back pain is one of the most common ailments to afflict people—athletes and those with sedentary lifestyles alike. But when spinal degeneration is the source of that pain, it can be debilitating to the point that everyday tasks such as sitting and walking can be unbearable.

Spinal fusion therapy can be used to treat a range of conditions that cause degeneration of the spine. The goal of the procedure is to relieve pain by decompressing nerves that have been pinched by damaged or shifting discs and provide stability to the healing bone. Spinal fusion can correct certain deformities that are inherited or develop from birth, such as scoliosis, as well as conditions that develop with age and overuse, such as arthritis and disc herniation.

What Is Recovery Like?

At Mountainside Medical Center, Robert F. Heary, M.D., performs spinal fusion surgeries as chief of neurosurgery services and medical director of spine services. One of the first questions people have about surgery of any kind is what recovery will be like and whether they will be able to resume or improve their previous activity level. Dr. Heary says spinal fusion surgery is generally intended to help patients regain everyday mobility.

“We are looking to make life more manageable so that patients are not in pain on a daily basis,” Dr. Heary says. “They can expect to have a good activity level after surgery, including walking around and being comfortable while walking.”

For those who are used to a high level of activity, such as competitive athletics, Dr. Heary says it’s important to manage expectations. “The idea that you’re going to undergo major spinal surgery and get back to running a marathon is very uncommon,” he says.

After surgery, patients can expect to undergo rehabilitation to regain mobility and strength. This can include bracing, a cane and physical therapy.

Some people who have spinal fusion surgery can go years without any additional pain or injury. However, some people experience a recurrence of their symptoms in other parts of the spine, especially if the cause of their spinal injury is genetic, age-related or brought on by overuse.

Surgery is not the only solution to many spinal conditions, and your doctor can help you determine if other methods such as physical therapy, injections, chiropractic adjustments or medications are right for you.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.