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Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions from our patients.

Will I be given adequate pain medication after surgery?

All surgeries can be painful.  Most surgery related pain is managed with narcotic pain medications for the first 24 postoperative hours.  This medication will go through the IV.  Because you cannot be discharged from the hospital on IV medicine, you will need to be able to take oral pain medication prior to leaving the hospital.

What about drinking alcohol?

In large amounts, alcohol can have a negative effect on your spine surgery. Alcohol can fill you up, thereby diminishing the amount of food and nutrients you ingest and may lead to poor healing. Excessive alcohol drinking can increase your risk of getting an infection at the surgical site, and too much alcohol can affect your liver’s ability to process medications, thereby diminishing your appetite and lowering your alertness. Also, alcohol may directly diminish the body’s ability to form a spinal fusion. It’s best to reduce or eliminate drinking alcohol prior to and after your surgery. Ask you healthcare provider when you may safely have moderate amounts of alcohol.

Will I be sick to my stomach?

For a day or so after surgery, many patients experience nausea and sometimes vomiting, usually due to pain medication, anesthetics, or an empty stomach.  Your nurse can give you medications to reduce your nausea or by changing your pain medication.

What can I do about constipation?

Constipation commonly occurs after surgery.  The usual cause is narcotic medication, which decreases the bowels’ normal pushing action.  During your hospital stay, the care team will ensure you drink lots of fluids, eat a diet rich in fiber and utilize stool softeners to prevent constipation.

Will I have to go to rehab or a nursing facility?

Some patients take longer than others to meet the independence criteria for being discharged from the hospital.  Some need further instruction and assistance from physical and occupational therapists, and some require extra nursing care.  If you have such needs, your surgeon will have your care manager at the hospital help you find an appropriate arrangement to meet your individual needs.

Will I need a brace?

Most metal spinal instrumentation systems are strong enough to hold your spinal fusion in place so that you do not need an external neck brace.  Some patients wear a soft removable collar.  Others may need to wear a plastic, removable neck brace for perhaps four to12 weeks following surgery.  If your surgeon gives you a brace to wear following surgery, be sure to following specific instructions for use.

Should I use ice and heat?

Sometimes you can partially relieve pain, swelling, or muscle spasm around your wound by applying heat or ice.  If your surgeon permits the use of ice or heat, you will be supplied a heat/cold therapy wrap once admitted to the Neuroscience Unit.

When can I go back to work?

Most patients are very concerned about how much time they have to take off from work due to surgery.  This will be individualized to each patient.  After your surgery, your surgeon will be able to address your concerns.

How soon can I engage in sexual relations?

The keys to resuming sexual relations are desire, comfort, and safety. As stress and pain lessen, desire usually returns.  Narcotic pain medication may contribute to a lack of desire, and as you wean yourself from these medications you may also see improvement.

Comfort during relations usually depends on your pain level, as well as you ability to move easily into and out of different positions and to contract muscles freely.

The safety of engaging in sexual relations depends on the stability of your developing fusion, or recovery after surgery.  Although your surgeon will guide you, most patients return to these activities within two to eight weeks following surgery.

Source: Kurz, Lawrence. Preparing for Spinal Surgery Anterior Cervical Fusion: Your Guide to Success.  Stryker Spine Patient Education, Allendale, NJ.