Lumbar Spinal Fusion: Preparing and Planning for Your Surgery
This handout will explain lumbar spinal
fusion from the back, or posterior approach.
What is a lumbar spinal fusion from the
back or posterior approach?
A posterior lumbar spinal fusion is a surgery
done on your lower spine. It helps to
stabilize your spine by healing or fusing the
bones. The doctor may use your own bone
for this. Bone from a bone bank might be
needed as well. Special hardware like rods,
screws, or mesh cages could be used to
strengthen the spine. The goal is for new
bone to grow at the fusion site so that this
part of the spine is stronger. There are
different types of fusion surgeries. Your
doctor will discuss what might be best for
Preparing and Planning for Surgery
Preparing for Surgery
Please refer to your booklet “Having
Surgery at UW Hospital” for general
To prevent constipation after surgery
read these instructions:
ξ Please begin taking a stool softener
two days before surgery. We
recommend the stool softener called
Docusate with Senna-take this with
at least 8 ounces of water.
ξ Do not take any fiber or stool
softener on the morning of surgery
If you are having any trouble with urination,
please let a member of your surgical team
know, they may want to start a medication
to help with urination before surgery.
Most people who have a posterior lumbar
fusion will leave the hospital one to two
days after surgery. You will need to arrange
to have someone spend at least 2-5 days
with you when you return home. If you live
alone, you will need to problem solve who
can help you after surgery. If don’t have
anyone to help, you will need to make
arrangements to plan for a discharge to a
rehabilitation at a skilled nursing facility
after discharge. You do need to have
physical and occupational therapy goals for
discharge to a skilled nursing facility for
What to Expect After Surgery
To help decrease pain in your back
ξ Change positions often
ξ Use heat or ice on your lower back.
If you use ice cover the ice pack with
a cloth and apply for 20 minutes per
ξ Take pain medicines as prescribed
You should not take any non-steroidal anti-
inflammatory medicines for six weeks after
Examples of these medicines are:
Ibuprofen Aleve® Naproxen® aspirin
Advil® Naprosyn Celebrex®
Taking these will slow down the healing
process. After six weeks, you can start taking
these medicines for pain relief. Your pain
should lessen after surgery. All pain medicines
should be taken with food and at least 8
ounces of water.
ξ Do not lift more than 10 pounds.
Your doctor will tell you when you
can lift more
ξ Do not lie on your stomach
ξ No pushing or pulling motions
ξ No bending or twisting
ξ Sit for only short periods of time for
the first 2 weeks
ξ Sexual activity can be resumed after
ξ You may drive when you are no
longer taking narcotic pain pills.
Limit driving to short trips and
slowly increase your driving time.
Your surgical team will let you know if you
will need a brace after surgery. This is highly
variable depending on many factors the doctor
takes into account.
f you are wearing a brace you will have
specific instructions for wearing it.
Your family member will be taught how to put
the brace on and take it off. Some braces, you
will not be able to put your brace on by
yourself. You do need someone to help you,
especially in the beginning. You should not lie
on your stomach. You may be more
comfortable using pillows for support.
After surgery, please refer to your discharge
packet for specific brace instructions.
You may need to make plans to be off 2-6
weeks depending on the work you do.
Heavy lifting may not be allowed for 12
weeks. Check with your doctor before
returning to work.
When you are home, you may take
Docusate with Senna twice a day while you
are on the narcotic pain medicine. If you do
not have a bowel movement within two days
or beyond your normal routine, take Milk of
Magnesia (6 teaspoons two to three times a
day) until you have a bowel movement. Use
food like prunes or prune juice instead of the
Milk of Magnesia. Be sure to drink several
8- ounce glasses of water or juice daily. This
ensures that your body has enough fluids
with the medicine.
Your incision may be closed with stitches,
metal staples, plastic strips of tape called
Steri- Strips, or Dermabond skin adhesive
Please follow the instructions in your
discharge packet for incision care.
Call your doctor if you notice any signs of
ξ Increased redness, swelling, or any
ξ Increased pain that does not go away
with pain medicine
ξ Fever greater than 100° F for two
readings taken four hours apart
ξ Any incision concerns
Once the incision is healed, use sun screen
for the next year to avoid the incision
turning dark in color.
If you have sutures or staples, they will have
to be removed in 10-14 days by your
Reasons to Call Your Doctor
ξ Severe or increasing pain
ξ New weakness
ξ concerns with your incision
Any drainage from your incision or any signs
of infection, as listed above
Important Phone Numbers
Neurosurgery Clinic, is open Monday-
Friday, 8:00- 5:00pm, and can be reached at
After hours, this number will be forwarded
to the paging operator. You will need to ask
for the doctor who is on call for your doctor
If you live out of the area, please call
1-800-323-8942 and ask for the
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 8/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5379.