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What to Expect During Recovery From Spinal Stenosis Correction Surgery

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 8/22/2010

Are you preparing for surgery for spinal stenosis? If so, learn more about what is involved in recovery to find out what you should expect.

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    Spinal stenosis is a condition best defined as narrowing of the spinal canal. The narrowing is a gradual process and as the narrowing progresses, the space available for the nerves and the spinal cord are reduced. This can result in weakness and pain in the legs. There are a variety of treatments, but in moderate to severe cases, surgery is an option for many patients. With surgery for this condition, comes a spinal stenosis surgery recovery period.

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    Recovery Period

    Full recovery after this surgery can take six months to a year. How long it takes a patient to recover depends on the severity of the surgery and on their progress in rehabilitation. If spinal fusion is done, recovery often takes longer than it does for other procedures.

    Right after the surgery, the patient can experience pain for a few days. During this time they will be given non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to decrease swelling and pain medications to keep them comfortable. To reduce swelling and ensure the back does not stiffen up, light exercise is often recommended following this surgery.

    Hot compresses and hot showers can help to alleviate some pain. Also, using ice before and after exercise can also help to ease pain.

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    What Can a Patient Return to Work and Resume Normal Activities?

    Patients who work a desk job can often return to work three to four weeks after surgery. However, all patients are different and those who need more time should take it. Those who work strenuous jobs or jobs where they are on their feet all day will have to wait longer to return to work. The average time is six to eight weeks, but only their doctor can tell them when they can return to full working duties.

    Patients should resume all normal activities as they feel comfortable doing them. Their doctor will advise them of activities they should avoid due to any special circumstances.

    Approximately 80 to 90 percent of all patients who have this surgery experience pain relief after they recover.

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    Special Precautions During Recovery

    spinal stenosis surgery recovery During spinal stenosis surgery recovery, patients will have to take special precautions to ensure they heal and recover well. Patients will typically remain in the hospital following surgery for two to three days for pain management and to help ensure they are taken care of.

    All patients are different and only their doctor can give them their individual special precautions. However, in general, patients should avoid bending and lifting until their doctor tells them it is safe, they are often not able to shower for a few days following the surgery, and they should be on the lookout for the possible risks following their procedure.

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    Possible Risks

    All surgeries present with possible risks and this surgery is not exempt. The risks of surgery for spinal stenosis include:

    • Nerve injury
    • Bleeding
    • Infection
    • Stiffness
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    Cleveland Clinic. (2010). Spinal Stenosis. Retrieved on August 20, 2010 from the Cleveland Clinic:

    University of Washington Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. (2009). Surgical Management of Spinal Stenosis. Retrieved on August 20, 2010 from the University of Washington:

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    Image Credits

    Spinal Stenosis: National Institute of Health – Wikimedia Commons