Spinal Stenosis Surgery: Long-Term Care

Spinal stenosis surgery will entail several months of recovery in order to return to everyday activities. It is normal to have pain after the surgery, and restrictions will be put in place until your spine has healed enough and become adequately stabilized.

Benefits of Surgery

Spinal stenosis surgery is a procedure performed to relieve pressure from the spinal cord and/or spinal nerve roots by removing structures from the spine, such as portions of discs, ligaments, and bone. This helps to reduce pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling associated with spinal stenosis.

While many patients experience improvement in their symptoms after their operation, spinal stenosis surgery does not cure spinal stenosis as the symptoms are often due to degenerative changes of the spine.

It is common to have back pain after the surgery that should improve with time as you progress through recovery. Physical therapy will play an important role in your rehabilitation process.

As your spine continues to age, degenerative changes to the spine may continue and symptoms may return with further narrowing of the openings of the vertebrae of the spine. Always discuss the risks and benefits of undergoing spinal stenosis surgery with your doctor to determine if it is an appropriate option for you.

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Possible Future Surgeries

It is possible that the surgeon may not know the full extent of surgical work to be performed until the operation is started. Always confirm with your doctor about what procedure you will be undergoing and ask about the possibility of whether you may need additional surgical work during the operation.

Because your spinal stenosis symptoms may be resulting from compression due to bulging or herniated discs, bone spurs, and degenerative narrowing of the foramina of the vertebrae, multiple procedures may need to be performed at once to create enough space in the openings of the spine.

In the case that multiple laminectomies were performed, spinal fusion may need to be performed in order to stabilize the spine. If a less invasive procedure like a discectomy was initially performed to remove part of a disc causing spinal cord or nerve root compression and symptoms do not improve, spinal fusion surgery may also be an option to consider in order to remove the problematic disc entirely.

Lifestyle Adjustments

During the initial weeks of recovery from spinal stenosis surgery, you should avoid certain activities and movements that will place increased stress on your spine. Your spine will need several weeks to heal and stabilize after the operation. To avoid injury and promote recovery, you should abide by the following recommendations:

  • Avoid bending, lifting, or twisting.
  • Avoid lifting anything that weighs more than five pounds, or anything heavier than a gallon of milk.
  • Avoid strenuous physical activity, including exercise like running, jogging, aerobics weight lifting, and all sports.
  • Avoid physically demanding housework such as vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, and doing laundry as these activities require bending and twisting of the spine.
  • Avoid physically demanding yard work such as shoveling, raking, and mowing grass as these activities also require bending and twisting of the spine.
  • Avoid sexual activity.
  • No driving or operating a vehicle of any kind until cleared by your surgeon.

For discectomies, laminectomies, and foraminotomies, these restrictions should be followed for the first two weeks of recovery after the day of surgery. For spinal fusion, these restrictions will remain in place for a longer period of four to six weeks post-operatively. Your doctor will inform you if these restrictions will need to stay in place for a longer period of time.

While certain activities should be avoided, it is also very important that you limit how much time you spend sitting or laying in bed each day. Staying active is crucial for recovery and preventing deconditioning from a sedentary lifestyle, especially after having surgery. Remember to:

  • Avoid staying in one position for too long, which includes laying down, sitting, or standing.
  • Try to get up and walk every one to two hours during the day to stay active and prevent blood clots. You can gradually increase the amount of time or distance you walk as you progress with recovery.
  • Do not push yourself to do too much too soon. Overexerting yourself can increase your pain and delay your recovery. Immediately stop doing any activity or motion that increases your back pain.
  • Learn proper lifting techniques to utilize your core and leg muscles to prevent increased pressure on your spine.
  • Attend all of your regularly scheduled physical therapy sessions as recommended by your doctor and follow up with a home exercise program prescribed by your physical therapist.

You should sleep on your back and place pillows under your knees, or on your side and place a pillow between your knees, to maintain good spinal alignment. Avoid sleeping on your stomach, as this position places increased strain on the low back, can cause more pain, and hinder your ability to recover from surgery.

If you had spinal fusion surgery and were given a back brace, it should be worn at all times of the day except when laying down or sleeping. Your doctor will advise you when wearing the back brace will no longer be necessary once the fusion has stabilized.

Maintaining healthy lifestyle habits to decrease inflammation will promote an ideal healing environment to facilitate your recovery from surgery. These include:

  • Get at least seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep at night. It is best to limit light exposure and screen time one to two hours before bed and keep the temperature of your bedroom cool to promote deep sleep.
  • Eat a healthy diet of whole, natural foods including meats, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and starches while limiting processed foods, sugar, refined grains like wheat and corn, and artificial sweeteners, flavors, colors, and food additives.
  • Manage a healthy weight and lean body mass through diet and exercise.
  • Stay adequately hydrated so that your urine is translucent. Opaque or cloudy urine is an indication of dehydration.
  • Maintain a positive attitude and learning how to cope with and manage stress. Staying connected to others and having friends and family for social support can have a significant impact on recovery and quality of life.

A Word From Verywell

Recovery from spinal stenosis surgery can vary in length, from three months for procedures like discectomies, laminotomies, and foraminotomies, to six months to a year for spinal fusion. It is crucial that you follow appropriate precautions after your operation and avoid bending, lifting, and twisting during the initial stages of recovery to allow the spine to heal and become stabilized.

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Article Sources
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  1. Mayfield Clinic. Spinal decompression (laminectomy). Updated December 2018.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Spinal stenosis: Management and treatment. Updated August 17, 2020.

  3. UW Health. Home care instructions after lumbar laminectomy, decompression or discectomy surgery.

  4. University of Michigan Health System. How to care for yourself after lumbar spinal fusion.