Question: How Soon After My Spinal Fusion Can I Travel?
Answer: It depends (obviously).
Everyone’s recovery timeline is different, and lots of factors need to be taken into consideration when making travel plans. I can’t tell you when YOU will be able to travel, but I can tell you when I did. For reference, I was fused from L4-S1 at age 42, and I did not experience complications during or after surgery. My BLT (bend, lift, twist) restrictions were lifted at 3 months post-op, and I was not given any specific restrictions regarding travel.
First Post-Op Road Trip
Road trips aren’t ideal at any point during your first year of recovery, but I’d especially avoid them (or any type of travel, really) for the first 6-8 weeks. You’ll probably be stiff and achy and unable to sit comfortably in one place for any length of time.
Of course some trips can’t be avoided. At around 7 weeks post-op, I was a passenger on a 4-hour road trip (8 hours total). The drive wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t terrible either. I was a little stiff, but I didn’t have any major issues, and I made it there and back without incident. We stopped periodically so I could get up and move around, which helped. You’ll definitely want to pack your pain meds for any type of travel stay during the early months.
(This was also my first post-op hotel bed. It wasn’t my best night sleep ever, but it wasn’t my worst night either.)
First Post-Op Plane Ride
Early in my 4th month of recovery, we took a family trip to Washington, DC. A flight from Florida to DC is about 2 hours. Much to my surprise, the flight was a piece of cake – I didn’t have any issues whatsoever.
I should also mention that our trip to DC involved a lot of walking, which also was easier than I anticipated. I did crash every day at 5:00 pm, but besides that, I felt sort of normal. This trip seems to mark a turning point in my recovery; it left me feeling hopeful and optimistic about living with a fused spine.
First Post-Op Theme Park
Six months after my fusion, we went to Disney World. This trip was a little bit tougher than my DC visit. I was actually at Disney World when I began to feel the first signs of an SI joint flare up. I was on my feet a lot, and I think our days were longer than they had been in DC. And like many people in this stage of recovery, my patience with my post-op body was running thin.
I don’t necessarily think that 6 months is too early for a theme park, but be mindful of your limits. Take breaks, try not to spend too much time on your feet, and definitely skip the roller coasters!
First Post-Op Cruise
At 18 months post-op, my family went on a 3 or 4 night Bahamas cruise. By then my energy level was more or less back to normal, and I was easily able to keep up with the rest of the family. The only challenge was the tiny, uncomfortable bed in our cabin, but it was relatively minor.
First Post-Op Cross Country Flight
A little less than two years after my spinal fusion, we flew from Florida to Nevada. The flight was about 4-5 hours, and it was uneventful. This was a big trip – we went to the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, Valley of Fire State Park, and the Las Vegas strip. I was cautious during the hiking and climbing portions of our trip, but otherwise my back was a non-issue.
It Gets Easier
Are you sensing a pattern here? Traveling after a spinal fusion can be challenging, but it gets easier and easier over time. Since my surgery in May 2016, we’ve traveled to Puerto Rico, the USVI, Colorado, California, New York, and more (traveling is kind of our thing). We’ve been boating, skiing, hiking, kayaking, climbing – all things I thought I’d never be able to do with rods and screws in my back. Don’t give up hope. Your recovery may be slower than you hoped and/or expected, but give your body time, and hopefully travel will be in your future as well.
What is your experience with traveling after a spinal fusion? Please share your stories in the comments!
For more commonly asked questions, visit my spinal fusion faq page.