After Back Surgery: Your Hospital Recovery

After surgery, you’ll be moved to a recovery room, also called the PACU (post-anesthesia care unit). You’ll stay there until you’re fully awake. Then you’ll be moved to your hospital room. The length of your stay depends on what type of surgery you had and how well you’re healing. You’ll probably get on your feet within 24 hours after surgery. A nurse or physical therapist will teach you how to brace yourself, turn, and get out of bed safely.

Right after surgery

When you wake up from surgery, you may feel groggy, thirsty, or cold. Your throat may be sore. For a few days, you may also have:

  • Tubes to drain the incision.

  • An IV to give you fluids and medication.

  • A catheter (tube) to drain your bladder.

  • Boots, compression devices, or special stockings on your legs to help prevent blood clots.

  • Varioius medications to control pain and prevent infection and blood clots.

Pain control

You will likely have discomfort after surgery. You may receive oral or intravenous pain medication. Or you may have a PCA (patient-controlled analgesia) pump. The pump lets you give yourself small amounts of pain medication. Some pain is normal, even with medication. But if you feel very uncomfortable, tell your nurse. Treating pain before it becomes severe often means that you will use less pain medication overall.

Physical therapist helping a man out of a hospital bed.

Getting up and moving

Soon after surgery, you’ll be encouraged to get up and walk. This helps keep your blood and bowels moving. It also keeps fluid from building up in your lungs. To help you move, you may be given a brace to support your spine. You may also see a physical therapist. He or she will teach you ways to protect your spine while lying down, sitting, standing, or moving.

Supporting your spine

Abdominal muscles support the spine. Tightening these muscles to “brace” yourself helps prevent pain and reinjury.

  • Put your hands on the lower part of your stomach. Gently tighten your abdominal muscles by pulling in your stomach. Breathe normally without relaxing your abdomen.

  • You may be given a brace to keep your back stable. If so, you’ll be shown how to wear it. 



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