Follow restrictions or precautions your surgeon may have given to you. See your discharge instruction sheet and follow instructions regarding showering and dressing changes.
Tips for sitting
- Use a comfortable supportive chair with a back and armrests and a firm seat (avoid slouching).
- Don’t sit for more than 30 minutes at a time.
- Keep items frequently needed (phone/remote) within reach.
Tips for walking/exercise
- Keep moving despite discomfort. It is important that you continue to walk through the pain as walking will greatly decrease muscle spasms and/or pain.
- Avoid strenuous exercise for the first three to six months after surgery. Walking is usually the best exercise. Your exercise routine will depend on your surgery and the rate of recovery.
- No heavy lifting, typically no more than five to 10 pounds (similar to weight of a gallon of milk).
- At first follow-up visit, ask your surgeon for any further instructions.
Tips for pain relief
- Take all medications prescribed to you.
- Take your pain medication as directed and routinely for the first 48 to 72 hours.
- Be sure to drink plenty of fluids, take laxatives and/or stool softeners as prescribed and increase your fiber intake while taking narcotic medications as they usually cause constipation.
Tips for lying down/sleeping
- Avoid a sagging mattress. A firm mattress that supports the natural curves of the spine is best.
- Sleeping may be uncomfortable or difficult for the first few weeks.
- Placing a pillow under your knees AND lower legs when lying on your back or between your legs when you are lying on your side may provide comfort.
Tips for showering
- As directed by your surgeon, use caution when getting in and out of the tub or shower.
- Use grab bars (install if there isn’t one there already).
- Do not pull on towel bars.
- Use a shower bench or seat if needed.
Be sure to check with your surgeon for any restrictions; usually as tolerated as long as there is no bending or twisting. If it starts to hurt—stop!
Resume only as directed by your surgeon (this is discussed at first postoperative visit).
- Be careful getting in and out of the car.
- Avoid twisting and bending. Instead turn body all at once as a unit.
- No car rides unless approved by surgeon except for after-surgery follow-up visit.
- Never drive while taking opioid pain medications.
Return to work
This is usually directed by your surgeon and depends on the type of job and the type of surgery you have had.
Restrictions after spinal surgery
Please ask your surgeon how long you should refrain from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. These are medications such as:
- Ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin)
- Naproxen (Aleve/Naprosyn)
- Meloxicam (Mobic)
Usually patients are asked to avoid these medications for three months after surgery but this decision can be made by your surgeon. You will also be asked to stop smoking and the use of any nicotine replacement. This includes:
- Nicorette® gum
- Nicotine patches
- Nicotine vaping
- Second-hand smoke
Nicotine in any form prevents bone fusion and healing.
Tips for surgical incision care
Your incision may be closed with dissolvable stitches, staples or regular stitches. If you have visible stitches or staples, these will need to be removed in about 14 days after surgery, so be sure to make your follow-up appointment with your surgeon for this to happen.
While at the hospital, you’ll wear a dry gauze dressing. Once at home, follow surgeon’s instruction if a dressing is needed. Do not apply any ointments or lotions to the incision area while it’s healing.
You may not bathe in a tub, swim or use a hot tub until your incision is fully healed.
Tips to prevent infection
- Eat a healthy diet and stay hydrated.
- Keep your incision clean, dry and protected.
- Notify your doctor right away of open skin irritations, infections (urinary tract, respiratory) or fevers.
- Practice good hygiene, wipe down cell phones with alcohol, and keep your home clean (linens, bathroom).
- Keep pets clean and away from incision site, and wash hands after contacting pets.
- Use lotions or powder
- Touch your incision without washing hands first
- Wear artificial nails
- Swim or get into a hot tub
- Sleep with pets for four weeks after surgery
Be sure to ask your doctor when you can continue with these activities.
Tips for being around pets
- Keep pets clean and away from incision site.
- Always wash hands after contact with pets.
- Do not sleep with pets during the post-op period. Some domestic pets have organisms like MRSA which can be transmitted to humans.
Use of anticoagulants
Your surgeon might prescribe a blood thinner (anticoagulant) to prevent blood clots. This can be an Aspirin or—as necessary—a stronger anticoagulant. While safe when taken as instructed, blood thinners can cause bleeding if you fall or have an injury.
Call your surgeon immediately if you experience bleeding from anywhere (e.g., urine, surgical site, nose, etc.) Please also notify your surgeon if you have the following:
- Oozing from the surgical site
- Painful swelling in your leg, foot or hip
- Dizziness, numbness or tingling
- Rapid or unusual heartbeat
- Chest pain or shortness of breath
- Vomiting, nausea, fever or confusion
Things to avoid while on anticoagulants
Over-the-counter drugs like aspirin-containing compounds, nonsteroidal medications (e.g., ibuprofen or Aleve) and vitamins can interact with anticoagulants and cause bleeding. Avoid these products while on a blood thinner.
For similar reasons, you should also avoid or postpone the following:
- Drinking alcohol
- Using a straight-edge razor
- Getting a procedure (e.g., dental work)*
*If it is not possible to postpone a procedure, be sure that your dentist or physician is aware that you are taking anticoagulants and that you have had a recent spine surgery.
Recognizing and preventing potential complications
Do not take a “wait and see” approach. Call your surgeon immediately if you experience the following signs of a blood clot:
- Increased swelling in your thigh, calf or ankle that does not go down when your feet are elevated above heart level
- Pain and tenderness in the calf of either leg
- Increased warmth or redness in either leg
While rare, call your surgeon immediately if you notice the following signs of an infection:
- Increased swelling and redness
- Increased drainage or discharge that changes color or has an odor
- Surrounding skin that is hot to the touch
- Increased pain in your incision, not associated with exercise
- Night sweats or fever greater than 101 degrees
Blood clot in lungs (pulmonary embolus or PE)
A pulmonary embolus is a blood clot that has traveled to your lungs.