What Should I Expect After Spinal Cord Surgery?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 May 2020
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After spinal cord surgery, there are several things you may expect to encounter, both in the hospital and after you return home. You will likely be given a pain management plan, along with information on how to care for your wound, how much you can move per day, and what things to avoid. These instructions should be closely followed to ensure you have the shortest recovery period possible.

The first thing you can likely expect after spinal cord surgery is some pain or discomfort. Different patients may experience varying levels of pain, so you should talk with your doctor about your symptoms. He or she will probably prescribe pain medications for you to take during your first week or two of recovery. You may also be advised to avoid certain movements or exercises during that period to avoid further irritation.

Another thing you may expect after spinal cord surgery includes learn proper care for your incision site. Since the incision will be on your back, you will likely need the assistance of a friend or family member when caring for the wound. Your doctor will explain to you, and the person helping you during recovery, how to change dressings, clean the wound, apply ointment when necessary, and any other care instructions which may be needed. Be sure to pay close attention to ensure that your incision site is cared for properly. This will help you avoid infection.

Getting an infection is a rare, but potentially life-threatening, issue to expect after spinal cord surgery. Symptoms to watch for include swelling at the incision site, redness, pus or unusual bleeding, or more pain than you have normally experienced. The site will likely be tender to the touch and you may feel a hot sensation. Medical care should be sought immediately to prevent the infection from spreading.

Once you have had a day or two to rest after spinal cord surgery, you will probably be required to begin getting out of bed for daily exercises. This may just include gentle activities like walking. Exercise will not only allow your back to regain strength more quickly, but it will also allow doctors to note your movement to be sure your spine is in working order. If you have any complications, like trouble moving in a certain direction or numbness, they can be taken care of before you leave the hospital.

You should expect after spinal cord surgery to stay in the hospital for only one or two days, assuming your incision site and ability to move progress well. Once you arrive home, you will likely be encouraged to partake in daily exercise or physical therapy in your home or in a treatment center. You will also generally be asked to schedule regular doctor’s visits to ensure your recovery is going as planned.

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