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.
Amy Richlin says
Due to a long-standing commitment, I went on a month-long lecture trip 9 weeks after spinal fusion, involving both cross-country and international travel. It was pretty grueling but I got it done! Once I got off painkillers my energy and brain got back to normal (helped by adrenaline I’m sure). Disappointingly, when we got back I was still having a lot of pain when I tried to walk, and THEN they discovered that I also needed a hip replacement. I found out that’s not rare – the back pain can mask the hip pain. So my advice is, get a hip X-ray while you’re at it! I now have to wait another six months for surgery but am encouraged by all your comments to hope that someday I’ll be able to go for a walk again.
I had fusion 6weeks ago l5 s1 after first operation of discectomy was in lot of pain fkr 2years now after the fusion much better no more backpain so far little bit of legpain startting but i believed it will go away like i recover happen
Dena Wagel says
You are such an inspiration! Gosh How I would love to be able to run…If I had someone i could start out with that also had spine issues like we do I think I would be more motivated..or Maybe Im just good at making excuses. I enjoy reading about your journey.
I had cervical spine surgery about 1 yr ago. I am trying to talk to someone who can relate to my condition. I can’t do any of the activities that was asked of me. I am still very fragile. I want to go on vacation but want to make sure I can travel by plane
Hi! I came across your blog after ploughing through a thousand internet articles hoping to find someone I could relate with. I too have spondy and a herniated disc at L5S1. I’m only 24 and the pain, numbness down my leg is excruciating on some days and still painfully annoying on others. I cannot walk for more than 30 minutes without needing to sit down. Currently, both my glutes have spasm-ed and I’m just lying in bed. I’m wondering if you had to have another fusion after your 1st round? I’m afraid I’ll have many in my lifetime once I get a fusion now 🙁 I’m really terrified and hoping to hear back from you
Shaughn Niland says
Hi..i am an avid work out and tennis maniac. I had the same issue over Covid-19. I got the surgery and 6 screws and 90 days later I was back playing tennis and switched workouts to pilates. I am so happy as I couldn’t walk either. Up all night with pain and numbness. You got this girl! Get a good doctor, hospital and some PT. The strength you have being young will help your recovery. Im 56 BTW
I enjoyed hearing your positive journey. I ad my second cervical spine surgery about 1 yr. Ago. I wish I can do some moral activity. I would like to travel by plane but I need to ask if it is ok. I just recently had a set back for pain and numbness over my whole body from just having my new office chair lowered. I feel like I am in critical condition instead of getting better. I believe I have the wrong expecting for the surgery recovery,
I’ve had two fusion it’s painful and you think is this it. But get up go slow 50feet for a week 100ft next take pain meds and don’t give up good luck
Thank you for this! It’s nice to see something long term, realistic, and positive.
Nura Muhammad says
Hi guy, I had spine fusion surgery L5S1, now 7 days post op, there’s this radiating pain pain in my left leg, worsened by sitting and gets better as I walk around, Is it normal?
Dear Sharon. Have been reading all of your comments hoping to find one comment with my symptoms. Had my 2nd fusion 4 months ago L2,3,4&5 1st was L4&5. No problem with 1st for 5 years. I have had very bad left hip/back pain since this last fusion. It feels like a knife is stabbing me when I walk or bend even little bit. Everyone says just give it time. Has anyone had any similar experience at all? Would so appreciate any response as I am very discouraged. Xrays at 3 month follow up show fusion fused successfully. Also had cyst removed during surgery. Thank you so much for this blog. I am 73 and trying everyday to remain upbeat and positive but this pain is really hampering my recovery
Thank you in advance for any reply’s
Sharon Wilhelm says
Hi Pat. I’m sorry for my slow response – have things improved for you at all? I had pain in what sounds like the same area – it was related to my SI joint. Could that possibly be it? I really hope your pain has decreased. Stay well…
You are not alone. I had cervical spine surgery and can’t do activities I live. I admire to you are older . I am only 57 years old and how to reach your age.