It's natural to want to get back to your regular activities as soon as possible after surgery for a spinal compression fracture. But a lot depends on the type of operation you get.
Two common methods, vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty, generally have a faster recovery time because your surgeon makes only a small cut in your back to do the procedure.
If you get spinal fusion surgery, the cut is larger and it takes longer to heal.
But no matter what, your operation will help heal your spine and ease any pain you’ve been feeling.
After Vertebroplasty or Kyphoplasty
The techniques for these procedures are similar, and recovery for each is about the same. In both cases, your surgeon injects a type of medical cement into your damaged spine to heal the fracture.
Once it's done you'll be taken to a recovery room. The medical staff will watch you for an hour or two while the anesthesia, the medicine that knocks you out during surgery, wears off.
You'll probably leave the hospital on the same day, but you won’t be able to drive yourself home, so you’ll need a ride.
Once You're Home
You might have some soreness in your back for a day or two at the spot where the surgery was done. Putting an ice pack on the area can bring some relief.
You may also be able to take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Ask your doctor which is right for you. Or you might need a prescription for a stronger pain medicine.
Often, back pain will start to ease up 24 to 48 hours after the operation. For some people it may take longer -- up to 3 days -- to feel better. Everyone is different. Talk to your surgeon about what to expect. If you're still hurting after surgery, you can discuss other ways to get relief.
Your doctor will probably encourage you to go back to your normal activities as soon as possible. But you shouldn't do intense exercise or heavy lifting for a few weeks -- that could reinjure your back.
A physical therapist can show you exercises to help you recover, too. Your doctor might also recommend that you wear a brace to hold your back in place while it heals.
You'll see your doctor again in the weeks following surgery. They'll check to see if you're healing well and ask you if you’re still having pain.
Complications from vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty are rare, but can include:
- Allergic reactions to chemicals used during the operation
- Fracture in the spine or ribs
- Cement from your surgery that leaks from your spine
- Nerve damage
Call your doctor right away if you have:
- Back or rib pain that is really bad or gets worse over time
- Numbness, tingling, or weakness
After Spinal Fusion Surgery
You’ll need a longer recovery time after this procedure than you would after vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty. During the operation, your doctor puts screws, plates, or rods in your spine to hold its bones in place until they join together. You'll likely need to stay in the hospital for about 5 days after it's done.
During this time you'll work with a physical therapist, who will teach you exercises to help you sit, stand, and walk again. After you're released from the hospital, you may go to a rehab facility for a few days or weeks to help you get ready to go home.
Once You're Home
You can take pain medicine to control any discomfort you still have. You may need someone to help you get around and care for yourself. The doctor might give you a back brace or cast to keep your back stable while it heals.
You'll need to change the dressing and care for the wound at home. Your doctor will tell you what to do. If you have staples or stitches, you’ll get them out about 2 weeks after surgery.
It may take 2 to 3 weeks before you're able to drive or get back to work and your usual routine. Ask your doctor when it's safe for you to do regular tasks. For the first 6 weeks, don't twist, bend, or lift anything heavier than 10 pounds.
Your back might still ache after surgery. You should see your doctor for one or more follow-up visits to make sure your back has healed and the procedure worked well.
Risks From Surgery
Back surgery complications are uncommon, but can include:
- Blood clots
- Nerve damage
- Trouble peeing
Call your doctor right away if you notice any of these signs: