How to Prepare for Spinal Fusion Surgery

Robert Watkins IV';

By Robert Watkins IV

Posted on September 22nd, 2021 in Spine Center

Spinal fusion is a very common surgery, as 1.62 million people across the U.S. undergo it every year. The purpose of spinal fusion is to connect two or multiple vertebrae in your spine so as to improve stability, correct a deformity, or alleviate pain.

Some of the most usual conditions for which spinal fusion is performed are scoliosis, rheumatoid arthritis, herniated discs, and spinal fractures.

Lumbar fusion is currently the most prevalent, with approximately 210,000 individuals undergoing it annually, followed by cervical fusion, which over 150,000 people have yearly. In contrast to the status quo of spinal fusion of just a decade ago, this surgery implies significantly less trauma to patients nowadays. This means that undergoing spinal fusion is generally safe, although it can be quite complex, depending on the degree of damage caused to the vertebrae.

Minimally Invasive Spinal Fusion With Faster Recovery

While in the past, spinal fusion could be performed only by making a large incision along the middle of the back of the patient, today, this surgery can be minimally invasive, entailing considerably fewer postoperative risks. However, not every patient qualifies for minimally invasive spinal fusion, as people whose spine condition is severe will require a traditional approach. Many people who want or have to undergo spinal fusion are fearful of a long recovery period, but this is rarely the case.

Usually, patients who have spinal fusion that involves only one or two vertebrae, which account for 80% of cases, will experience quite a fast recovery and will be able to return to their daily life within several weeks, including playing recreational sports.

If you are scheduled for spinal fusion, regardless of the surgical approach involved, you may wonder how you should prepare for the procedure in order to avoid major postoperative health complications. Naturally, most patients are advised by their surgeon about what to do and what not to do several days or several weeks before their surgery, but you may want to find out more in this respect. The following article will offer you information concerning the most important things you should do or stay away from prior to undergoing spinal fusion. Nevertheless, keep in mind that it is ultimately your surgeon’s advice that counts and that you must follow, as every patient who needs spinal fusion is unique and has a different health quality.

1. Prepare Your Home to Accommodate Your Needs After the Surgery

Following spinal fusion, you are going to have several restrictions, such as not sitting for more than 30 minutes, particularly if the condition for which you underwent surgery was complex. Accordingly, it is a good idea to prepare your home before the procedure so as to experience recovery as painlessly as possible. Here are several tips about how to arrange the objects in your house to accommodate your needs when you return from the hospital:

  • move food, cookware, and utensils to high shelves or kitchen cabinets in order to avoid bending when you have to prepare your meals
  • prepare food the day before you undergo spinal fusion to have it ready when you return home and buy food that is easy and quick to prepare
  • remove rugs if you have any to avoid tripping over them
  • place your phone in a convenient area, such as close to your bed
  • put your personal hygiene products, clothes, and shoes at a height so that you can reach them without bending
  • if your bed is not at hip level, you may want to raise it, which will make it more comfortable for you to lay down
  • have all your laundry done before the surgery, as you will not be able nor allowed to lift heavy objects such as a full laundry basket
  • purchase or borrow a walker, as you may need one to aid you for the first 2 weeks after you are allowed to stand and move around
  • take into consideration buying a grabber device, which may be very useful when you have to pick up items without twisting or bending
  • look for a toilet raiser, as you may find it quite uncomfortable if not impossible to sit on a normal toilet for the first few weeks of your recovery
  • place a bench or a chair in your bathtub or shower so that you will not have a difficult time during this activity

Furthermore, if your bedroom is upstairs, it is recommended to live in a room with a bed that is downstairs. If there are no rooms with a bed on the ground floor, ask someone to move your bed from your bedroom downstairs. This way, you will no longer have to use the stairs, which can pose a real danger to the condition of your spine, as you can easily slip and fall. Ideally, your kitchen should be downstairs as well, but this is usually the case in most houses.

2. Have Someone to Take You Home on the Day of Your Hospital Discharge

Following your spinal fusion surgery, you will have to go home by car, either lying down in the backseat or reclining in the front passenger seat. While you must arrange your own transportation, some hospitals provide it for patients who underwent major surgery like a complex spinal fusion, but you must arrange this as well before the date of your surgery. It may or may not be free of charge.

Alternatively, you can pay for a private ambulance to drive you home if you have no one to help you get home from the hospital. This option is also very good if you are in a lot of pain and cannot even sit, let alone stand up and walk. Even though the cost of a private ambulance ride can be quite high, it is certainly worth it if you have no other alternative, and you will be transported to your home in a very safe vehicle with a special stretcher.

3. Quit Smoking Two Weeks Before Your Spinal Fusion

If you smoke, it is crucial to give up this habit at least temporarily and at least 2 weeks before your spinal fusion, as smoking can interfere with the healing process of your bone graft. Because tobacco smoking can have this negative effect during your recovery, too, you should not smoke for approximately 6 weeks after your surgery as well. Otherwise, you may experience non-union, which is the failure of complete spinal fusion and healing, and you may have to undergo another procedure. E-cigarettes are not a good idea either, as there is no definitive information about how harmful they are, so it is best to be on the safe side.

4. Stop Taking Certain Medication

There are certain medications that can greatly interfere with spinal fusion surgery, including aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, such as Ibuprofen and Indomethacin. Because they promote excessive bleeding, which is unwanted during the surgical procedure, you need to stop using them at least 2 weeks before your spinal fusion. You can replace these medications with extra-strength Tylenol if you are seeking pain relief. If it does not work, we strongly advise you to talk to your doctor about what alternatives you have in this regard.

Warfarin can also interfere with spinal fusion, so you should talk to your healthcare provider if you take it as well. If you take antidepressants from the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors category, you will have to cease treatment with these, too, as they also promote bleeding. Lastly, there are certain herbal supplements that are also detrimental to your surgery, such as fish oil, ginseng, feverfew, and green tea.

5. Purchase Any Medical Equipment You May Need in Advance

Following spinal fusion, some patients will have to wear a brace, for which they will be fitted before the surgery. It is a type of medical equipment that is very important for your recovery process, as it will prevent your spine from twisting and bending while the vertebrae are healing. The brace, as well as other necessary medical equipment, will be prescribed to you by your doctor prior to surgery, and your physical therapist and home-care coordinator will order it for you. You will need to ask someone to be at your place on the day when your medical equipment will be delivered.

Your insurance should cover the cost of your spinal fusion medical equipment, but you should always check with their staff first, as whether they cover it highly depends on the company. Therefore, you will have to ask your insurance company if they offer coverage for Durable Medical Equipment, as this is the type of equipment you may need after spinal fusion.

The following is the medical equipment that may be prescribed to you for use after spinal fusion:

  • a walker
  • elevated commode
  • toilet seat extender
  • tub seat to use in the bathtub or shower
  • bench or chair to place in the bathtub or shower
  • long-handle reacher

In some cases, although rarely, you may need a hospital bed for your spinal fusion recovery. This is necessary for patients with specific medical needs and will also be prescribed to you by your doctor if applicable.

6. Fast Before Your Spinal Fusion

The reason why patients who undergo general anesthesia have to stop eating or drinking anything before their surgery is because general anesthesia causes the reflexes of your body to stop temporarily. This greatly increases the risk of vomiting and may lead to the food you ingested traveling back into your throat. Consequently, if your spinal fusion is to take place in the morning, which is generally the case, you will be instructed to stop eating any solid food after 9 p.m. and to stop drinking any liquids after midnight.

7. Donate Blood in Advance for Your Surgery

This step is optional, but your healthcare provider may ask you to donate several units of blood 2 to 4 weeks before your spinal fusion, as the hospital may not have your blood type available on the day your surgery is scheduled. Autologous transfusion, which refers to the reinfusion of blood to the same person from which it was taken, is often the option that is presented to most patients who are going to have spinal fusion surgery.

You may be prescribed iron supplements twice a day starting one week before your first blood donation, which you can obtain from any pharmacy without a prescription. The greatest advantage of using your own blood during spinal fusion if necessary is that there is no risk of getting blood-borne infections or diseases.

8. Bring Only Useful Items with You to the Hospital

Finally, on the day of your spinal fusion, you should take with you only what is really necessary, such as toiletries, underwear, comfortable and loose pajamas, a robe, and a pair of slippers or low-heeled shoes with closed backs, which may be sneakers, loafers, or walking shoes. If you were told that you are going to wear a brace after the surgery, you should also take some cotton shirts with you to wear under it.

It is ideal not to bring any valuables with you to the hospital, as they may be lost. As for your medical equipment, you should have someone bring it to you after your spinal fusion. However, if this is impossible and you have to take it with you before the procedure, you should label it with your name.

By virtue of advanced medical technology, undergoing spinal fusion is very safe and relatively low-risk, depending on the complexity and duration of the procedure. Therefore, while it is natural to be nervous before the surgery, regardless of the procedure, you should keep in mind that it is going to have a positive effect on your health. Since the spine is the central support structure of your body, helping you walk, twist, sit, bend, and stand, we encourage you to have spinal fusion if your doctor has recommended it to you, as it will alleviate your back pain if you have any and increase your life quality tremendously.