Post Operative Care
Commitment to Recovery
Undergoing scoliosis surgery is a serious decision. You will need to make a conscious decision prior to surgery and commit to a recovery process that will ensure your results are the best they can be. Full recovery can take up to twelve months, and there are many precautions or rules you will need to follow. You will feel quite comfortable after the first week or two and often return to school can be in the fourth week post surgery.
Immediately After Surgery
After scoliosis surgery, you will awake, lying on your back, facing up. You will feel a little sleepy and hopefully without too much discomfort, and have several medical monitors attached to you. Once awake the Orthopaedic Surgeon will ask you some basic questions. Pain relief will be carefully administered. By the second or third day, most of the attachments, such as IV tubes and drains, are removed and within three days, the pain-relief medication can be taken orally. You can stand up at the bedside on the first day post surgery, usually. Very few patients require a brace after surgery.
The First Moves
Following surgery, patients can start to move around within a day or two. Most people are able to briefly get out of bed and walk to a nearby chair with the help of a nurse – some may take a few days longer to feel confident enough to do so. You will learn the “log roll” technique to keep your back straight with your knees bent while rolling into bed without twisting your spine. It is important that you start the process of strengthening the back and regaining some flexibility by getting mobile.
Recovery at Home
Your stay in hospital will generally be between five and seven days. Once you can get in and out of bed without help, show improvements in walking around, can eat solid foods, and if your wound looks dry and clean, you can return home. It is a good idea to use a ground floor bedroom, and to ensure the bed height is perfect for your “log roll” technique. You may require the help of a family member, friend or nurse during your first few days at home.
Your most basic rules for recovery are “no BLTs”. So that means no bending at the back, no lifting anything that weighs more than a litre of milk, and no twisting. These types of actions or movements may cause additional muscular type pain – which will be a quick reminder that you cannot move that way! Depending on your surgery, you may need a brace to be worn for part of your recovery period. This will stabilise your spine while it is healing. Bracing after surgery is uncommon.
Post-Op Appointment 4-6 weeks
At your first post-operative appointment, your Orthopaedic Surgeon will assess your recovery and inspect your wound, discuss any issues or concerns you may have, and you can ask any questions about the future and what to expect next. Your specialist may give you a new procedural care plan to follow to assist with your recovery. Expect clinical and radiological reviews at 6 and 12 months post operatively, and perhaps longer if further observation is needed.
Critical Timelines from 6 Weeks to 3 Months
Once you have had your post-operative appointment, your specialist may have lifted some precautions and you may have a few new freedoms. It is important to rest until the three month mark is reached. Some of the things you might be able to do are: return to school or (sedentary) work around the four week mark, have a bath, go out with friends, go for short car rides, and decrease your reliance on pain medication. You will also be encouraged to return to your physical therapies as soon as is comfortable. You may need to have X-Rays reviewed before some of these items are allowed
3 Months and Beyond
Following a fairly sedentary three months, your specialist will give the green light to become more active and to start doing moderate exercise again. Physical therapy will already have been part of your ongoing care plan to strengthen your back and core muscles. At the twelve month mark you should be able to participate in most of the activities that you enjoyed prior to surgery. You may visit your Scoliosis Specialist for ongoing observation and monitoring until no further treatment is required.