As you prepare yourself mentally to undergo spinal surgery, you also need to prepare yourself for the recovery period that will follow your operation. While the surgery entails work on the part of the surgeon, after surgery the brunt of the work is in your hands, and you will be guided as to what is required. To ensure a smooth and healthy recovery, it is important that you closely follow the set of instructions that your surgical team gives you.

Hospital Recovery

After the operation, you will be brought to the recovery room or intensive care unit (ICU) for observation. When you wake up from the anaesthesia, you may be slightly disoriented, and may not know where you are. The nurses and doctors around you will tell you where you are, and remind you that you have undergone surgery. As the effects of the anaesthesia wear off, you may feel very tired, and, at this point, will be encouraged to rest.

Members of your surgical team may ask you to respond to some simple commands, such as "Wiggle your fingers and toes" and "Take deep breaths." When you awaken, you will be lying on your back, which may seem surprising, if you have had surgery through an incision in the back; however, lying on your back is not harmful to the surgical area.

Prior to the surgery, an intravenous (IV) tube will be inserted into your arm to provide your body with fluids during your hospital stay. Whilst asleep under anaesthesia, a tube (also commonly called a Foley Catheter) may be placed into your bladder to drain urine from your system. The catheter serves two purposes: (1) it permits the doctors and nurses to monitor how much urine your body is producing, and (2) it eliminates the need for you to get up and go to the bathroom. Once you are able to get up and move around, the catheter will be removed, and you can then use the bathroom normally.

During your hospital stay you will receive additional instructions from your nurses and other members of your surgical team regarding your diet and activity. Proper nutrition is an important factor in your recovery. Your surgeon may restrict what you drink and eat, or place you on a special diet, depending on the surgical approach that was used during the operation. Calories and food intake are an important part of recovery. After the surgery, you will continue to receive intravenous fluids until you are able to tolerate regular liquids, which typically involves gradually transitioning you from sips of clear fluids to full liquids and thereafter you will be given small amounts of solid food until you are ready to return to a regular diet.

With respect to physical activity, in most cases your surgeon will want for you to get out of bed on the first or second day after your surgery. Nurses and physical therapists will, if necessary, assist you with this activity until you feel sufficiently confident to get up and move around on your own.


Depending upon the size of your ooeration and your rate of "getting back on your feet" postoperatively, you may either go straight home, or you may be referred to a rehabilitation unit. The purpose of the unit is to give you time and assistance to recover the physical stamina and confidence necessary for you to go home. You should take your surgeon's advice as to whether a stay in the rehabilitation unit would be of benefit.

Home Recovery

Before you are discharged home your surgeon will give you a written sheet of instructions, including a list of "dos and don'ts," which you will be asked to follow for the first 6 to 8 weeks of your home recovery. He will also relate these instructions during his visits to you in the days before discharge. If you are unsure of any of these instructions, ask for clarification. Following these instructions is crucial to your recovery.

Nowadays, surgery involves one or more incisions depending on the surgical approach used to perform the operation. Therefore, when you are discharged home you may still have a surgical dressing on your incision(s). You will be given directions on wound care.

If any signs of infection are observed while changing the dressing, call your doctor. These signs include

  • Fever - a body temperature greater than 101°F (38°C)
  • Drainage of pus or fluid from the incision(s)
  • Opening of the incision(s), and
  • Redness or warmth around the incision(s)

In addition, call your local doctor or your surgeon's staff if you experience chills, nausea/vomiting, or suffer any type of trauma (e.g., a fall, automobile accident).

In addition to caring for your incision(s), you will also be encouraged to

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Maintain a healthy diet (high in protein)
  • Walk or do deep-breathing exercises, and
  • Gradually increase your physical activity

Activities to avoid include any heavy lifting, bending, or twisting. You should also avoid the use of skin lotion in the area of the incision(s); you need to keep this area dry, at least until the wound dressing is removed.