Wound infections are most likely at about 10 days after surgery. Some symptoms to look for include:
- Fever (101 degrees or higher)
- Expanding redness at the incision site
- Increasing pain
- Change in the amount, appearance, or odor of drainage
If these signs appear, it is important to contact the treating surgeon immediately. As the back continues to heal, patients usually start to feel better and find they can take on more activities. The worst pain is generally over by four weeks after surgery. Pain is likely to continue to decrease gradually, but some patients continue to have pain until three to six months after surgery. It remains important to be careful and to view pain as a warning to slow down.
Crucial Time for Fusion
During this time, the lumbar fusion bone mass is becoming established. These movements should continue to be avoided to avoid stress at the fused segments:
- Excess lifting (anything over 10 to 15 pounds)
Patients who were prescribed a back brace to help immobilize the back will probably be advised to continue with it for six weeks to three months after surgery.
Outpatient physical therapy is may be started at least 6 weeks after surgery and lasts 2 to 3 months. Techniques are tailored to the individual, with more and more activities added as the patient improves. Therapy helps patients rethink how they walk, sit, stand, and lie down. Safe ways to lift, pull, or push objects are also covered.
Patients may progress from slow, short walks to more demanding exercises, such as swimming. Special exercises to strengthen the muscles supporting the lower back are emphasized.
To keep the incision clean, it’s important to wash the site with soap and water at least once a day and pat it dry.
Walking is the ideal form of exercise during this period. Not only does it increase muscle strength, it helps the heart, lungs, and digestive system. Gradually increasing the amount of walking, and stopping when there is added pain, is the best approach.