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Home > How Long Should I Expect to Be Out of Work After My Spine Surgery?

How Long Should I Expect to Be Out of Work After My Spine Surgery?

jeff carlsonJeffrey R. Carlson, MD, MBA, CPE, FAAOS

 As I see patients on a daily basis and schedule them for surgery, I am consistently surprised as how long they think they will be recovering after their spine surgery.    This is the year 2024 and with all of the technological advancements that we have made, most folks still think of spine surgery as it was in the 1950’s.  They envision being in the hospital for days, if not weeks, full body casts, lying completely still and months of recovery in bed.  NOPE.  I thought it might be advisable to do an article telling you how recovery will really be in 2024.  So, let’s get started!

If you are relatively healthy and don’t have many co-morbidities (diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, etc.) you can expect to have your surgery in an outpatient setting, such as Coastal Virginia Surgery Center.  This state-of-the-art ambulatory facility was designed for orthopaedic surgeries and every person who works there is trained to assist me during my spine procedures.  The anesthesia used will be effective, but such that you will be less groggy after surgery and can wake up completely, so that you can be discharged home after surgery.

We use the name “Enhanced Surgical Recovery” to describe the advanced surgical techniques, anesthesia, pain medications and nursing care we utilize in the Ambulatory Surgical Center .  The surgical techniques in the operating room are minimally invasive and tissue sparing, which reduces tissue trauma, subsequent pain, and recovery time.  We also inject numbing medication into the soft tissues during surgery so that pain is lessened when patients wake up.  Along with IV pain medication and oral pain medication that patients take when they go home, this is highly effective at managing post-surgical pain.  We also recommend icing the incision site intermittently as needed after surgery to help with discomfort, which is surprisingly helpful. Patients often return home with a brace to wear whenever they are upright or ambulating.

Sending the patient home from the surgery center doesn’t mean that medical care ends.  Nurses are sent to the patient’s home to check vitals, the incision site, change dressings, remove drains, and to report information to me that I need to know.  Physical Therapists will come to the home to make sure that the patient can ambulate around the home appropriately and is making progress daily with their movement and recovery.  Patients will follow-up with me at the office, at 10-14 days post-surgery, for x-rays and at regular intervals after that, as necessary.  They may be given a bone growth stimulator to help their bones fuse at this point.  They may be told they can stop wearing their brace at this visit as well.

Length of recovery will depend on the type of surgery. For patients who have had cervical (neck) or lumbar (lower back) fusions, they will typically require the most time and multi-level fusions will add to that; however, that doesn’t mean months.  I recently had a patient with a two-level lumbar fusion (L4-S1) who started working from home on day six of recovery, who then returned to work at the office on day 13 after surgery.  While this may not be everyone’s experience, it should not take months to get back to work (at an office job) from a two-level lumbar fusion.

For surgery not requiring fusion, like micro-discectomies or laminectomies done for disc herniation or spinal stenosis, these procedures typically will require less bracing and less physical therapy as these surgeries are less disruptive to your spine.

If you are contemplating spine surgery and have questions about the time it will take for recovery, talk to me. Hopefully, I can allay some of your concerns and give you a good timeline on which to plan your recovery.



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