Question: What is the Average Spinal Fusion Recovery Time?
Answer: It varies widely, as you’ll see below.
Recently, someone left this comment/question on one of my Instagram posts: “At 7 weeks out now I walk only a mile and my legs fire up. Sleep is elusive…my surgeon said 6-8 weeks and all should be good. Not so. So getting worried. Any insight?”
I’m often asked some variation of this question, and I’ve included my response in the FAQ section of his blog. But the other day, I decided to pose this question to the spinal fusion community on Instagram. I asked:
How long did it take for you to feel “normal” [after your spinal fusion] vs. what your surgeon said?
I received a wide range of responses. If you missed my stories or don’t follow me on Instagram (you can follow me HERE), I’ll list them here for you. (I’ve edited some answers for clarity & punctuation, since I don’t have a character limit here like we do on Instagram!)
- “5 months we went to Puerto Rico and I was feeling great! (Much later than [my surgeon] said.)”
- “I am 8½ months and starting to really feel closer to my old self. I believe it will take the full year.”
- “My surgeon said 6 months, I think it took me 24 months to be close to my new ‘normal.’
- “About a year for ‘normal.’ Almost 2 years now, and I’m in the best shape of my life.”
- “Define normal…”
- “Doc said 12 weeks. Had 2nd surgery to remove hardware at 10 months due to irritation.”
- “Close to a year.”
- “Oh man, it’s different for everyone! I still don’t feel normal, but strong now!”
- “3 months, and it felt like forever. It wasn’t until a year that I really felt ‘normal.’
- “I noticed a huge improvement after 3 months.”
- “9 months.”
- “Surgeon said one year for a spinal fusion (in the Netherlands). The first 6 weeks we have to lay down.”
- “I feel mostly ‘normal’ but still healing between 3-6 months!”
- “At least a year to really feel myself again. Two years on and I’m a different person, little pain.”
- “Never? I was almost normal at 12 weeks but then everything reversed indefinitely.”
- “10-12 [months] for sure.”
Lots of variation here, but you’ll notice that not a single person said that they felt “normal” at 6-8 weeks! Did your surgeon tell you that it would take about 6-8 weeks to recover? Mine did.
If you’re a couple of months into your recovery and wondering why you don’t feel “normal” or “better” yet – if you’re wondering if something is wrong because you’re not healing as quickly as your surgeon said you would – take heart because you are not alone. Some people feel normal at 8 weeks post-op, but most do not. Be patient with your body and allow yourself to heal at your own pace. Everyone’s timeline is different.
How long did it take YOU to feel normal after your spinal fusion? Please chime in and add your response in the comments!
[Click to read a detailed account of my personal spinal fusion recovery timeline.]
I hope to include more FAQs in my Instagram stories, so keep your eye on my Spinal Fusion story highlights and my FAQ page on this site for more questions & answers.
Be well & stay strong,
Peter Forsyth says
68 year old retired professor. Very active (biking, swimming, gym, used to be a runner). Diagnosed with spondy and stenosis about 2 years ago. Tried all the usual conservative approaches, did not help at all. I was going downhill.
Had L3-L4-L5 laminectomy and L4-L5 fusion on October 6/2021. Today, 4 months post-op. Recovery was quite good: little pain. All leg pain was gone almost immediately post-op. After surgery, was able to stand for more than 5min (which I could not do before surgery). Was walking 5k/day at 2 months. Then, had to cut back due to very tight hamstrings and calves. Physio helped. Now using spin bike and swimming. Things looked good until about 3 weeks ago. New pain in back (which I did not have before).
It is difficult to get good information about recovery after fusion. I found this site was useful: I see that many others (including you Sharon) had setbacks 4-6 months post-op. This gives me hope, and encourages me to be patient.
Michele Potter says
I just happened upon this blog while looking for info on running after spinal fusion. I’ve had a very different recovery (so far) than most people. I’m 57 and extremely active. I’m an ultrarunner, averaging 30-35 miles a week, strength training 4X a week and hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding and cycling. I’ve had back pain for a long time but assumed it was just age, until my feet went numb. My MRI showed severe spinal stenosis with nerve compression and spondylothesis. After discussing options, I had a spinal fusion L4-L5 and a laminectomy 3 weeks ago. I literally ran and continued strength training until the day of surgery. Day 2 was the worse – I stayed overnight and the next day was awful. PT and OT came in and then I had a 40 minute ride home. But every day has gotten better. I stopped all pain meds 4 days after surgery. I returned to work 1/2 days the week after (I work from home) and full days the week after. Right now, I still have the BLM restrictions but I feel normal otherwise. My back is a little stiff feeling but I have no pain. As a matter of fact, my lower back pain is gone and I can feel my feet again. I’ve been walking everyday and I’m up to 2.5 miles. I don’t have any of the exhaustion that a lot of people talk about.I hesitate to say anything since I’m only 3 weeks out but I’m hoping that my recovery continues to go as smoothly as it has. It seems that everyone’s recovery experiences are so different.
August 2020 I began my 3rd year after L4/5 fusion with titanium cage. I agree each recovery is specific to each person/body. I am so grateful to God for where I am now. I am probably in the best of health that I have been in 15 years. For me it was a longish ongoing recovery after the fusion and I had to be patient with myself. I went to PT as soon as I was given release after surgery and what a blessing that was for my recovery! My PT, Nancy Y. was so awesome! I learned to become an athlete for life (what she called it) I do these 5 stretches everyday and most days I do core/strengthening exercises. I also try to ride my recumbent exercise bike @ 4 times a week. I have stayed with it, having been taught that having my core strong is so vital in helping my back be healthy for the long haul. That the strong muscles will help hold my vertebra together well. I am careful in what I do but have found such joy in all that I can do now! Before surgery I was walking with a cane and only a few steps at a time, as it was so painful. I now can go on hikes with my husband and friends and this still thrills my heart to this day! I can hardly believe it! I sometimes will be tired or sore after or the next day but rest and sometimes a good epsom salt bath will often do the trick. I went back to work @ 6 weeks after surgery and it was a challenge even with special chairs and naps at lunch and bedtime soon after coming home from work. I did end up retiring from work (office type) about 6 months after, as my hubby and I felt that I needed to concentrate on taking good care of myself and really getting as much healing as I could- focusing on becoming as healthy/strong as possible. We had been told that where-ever I was after one year was as good as I would get (we found that wasn’t really true, as I continued to heal and get stronger and healthier even into my second year and continue to grow my muscles and health today). Sharon, your blog here was so helpful in my early recover time, thank you so much for sharing your story. I am glad to see you have posted so much more now. What a gift you are giving to others that are walking similar trails. 🙂 I wanted to join you in encouraging others to not give up hope, to rest when needed and keep moving.
Maxine Medina says
Im 8 weeks out today. At 4 weeks my surgeon wanted me on tylenol only. Ridiculous! Im usually a pretty active person sbd was a dance instructor for many years which took its toll on my body. Im 64 and this fusion of l4 l5 and s1 kicked my butt. I was showering alone the second day but needed help with socks etc. the first three weks i felt guilty staying in bed for so long but still trued doing laundry until i had way too much pain and stopped getting up and down. I had to get an mri on my shoulder snd when it was over the technician handed me a hand up and completely forgot i shouldnt sit straight up until the excruciating pain stopped. I think this was my set back. My surgeon has finally okayed some mild pain meds because he knows you dont heal when you’re in pain. I tore the tendon in my hip which will be operated on right at the 3 month mark if xrays look good on my back. I dont know if this has anything to do with my healing taking so long but my 38 year old son passed away 15 months ago and the person i talked with to find comfort with, his father passed away from liver cancer 15 months after my son. My mom is 96 and is now bedridden. I couldnt stand the pain in my back anymore so i had to gave the surgery hoping to get better. Praying i feel better soon. My mornings are the worst and i cant sleep through the night and i list a lot of hair too.
Sandra Kanon says
I was four months into recovery and beginning to feel much better when I suffered a terrible fall. I knew I’d hurt myself badly the moment I landed on my right hip and knee. My recovery was reversed at least a month. I’m now 5 months post-op and beginning to feel the way I did just prior to the fall. I’m expecting a full year to bring me around to normalcy.
Sherri Jordan says
I am almost 6 months after my L4L5 surgery. I slipped in the bathroom and fell on my right hip. I feel a lot better now than I did before the surgery that at least I can stand and walk without it really hurting. However I still am sore on my right side from slipping. Also my surgeon repaired a torn nerve and a couple toes and top of my foot are numb. Was told this could take a year before it got better.
John H. says
I had XLIF surgery to insert a bone graft filled titanium cage between L3/L4. L3 and L4 were also mechanically fused with two pedicle screws to hold things together while the interbody fusion occurred. I am almost to 11 months now and feel like things are nearly normal. Not quite fully but certainly better than at months 5 or 6. Prior to surgery I was a competitive triathlete and am now back to a normal training schedule although not quite as speedy on the run (yet). One thing I do differently now is spend time EVERY day doing various low back and core exercises I learned during PT. I feel this has been a key part of my recovery, adding stability to my entire low back/core.
I am 13 weeks post surgery: L3-L4 and L4-L5 posterior lumbar interbody and intertransverse fusion, spinal decompression with laminectomy L2-S1, with L5-S1 left to continue autofusing. I love my surgeon, he is amazing! I have no regrets. But my brain was hoping 12 weeks would be the miracle of normalization, and it’s not, of course. I’m a chef, I miss working in the restaurant, and this recovery process feels like it’s taking FOREVER. I had nerve damage that’s still healing, but would love for the pressure in my lumbar spine to go away. I’m on my feet cooking, I do my PT exercises twice a day, I walk 30 min. 5-6 days a week. I appreciate your blog, it’s hard to find relevant information on what to expect. At 12 weeks my surgeon lauded me for a poster child recovery, and said if I kept doing everything it would only continue to get better. So I’ve just been trying to figure out how long until I’m as better as I’m going to be, and what my new normal will actually be, without getting too discouraged in the meantime.
I’m like 10 weeks post op and have days I feel like I forget I had the surgery and others like today that I just need to lay on heat and take Percocet. I am a hair stylist and go back to work in a week. I’m terrified. I had Spondylolisthesis and needed two surgeries. I have such sever nerve pain in legs and feet that I didn’t experience before. I can only pray the pay will lesson.
Lynda Dove-Garcia says
I am two years after L4/5 S1 Fusion and am only just now starting to feel normal and be without pain. I had the fusion at the age of 67 which might have something to do with my long recovery. My surgeon said that in three months I would be back to teaching spin and body pump classes…um…no. I used to be a locally ranked runner, running in the 6 minute mile range Now I am lucky to average 12.30 per mile although last year I did win my age group in 5k, running an average of 11 minutes per mile, which nearly destroyed me 🙂 Anyway, my running has suddenly become a little easier. I do employ the walk run method. I will be 70 in June and hope I can start a new chapter in my running history. Thanks for your blog. It has been very helpful.
Nikki Laidlaw says
I’m just over 3 months into my recovery from L4-5 fusion surgery. I was getting quite worried and frustrated that my pain levels are still quite high, but I definitely feel better after reading peoples’ comments about their recoveries. At my 3 month appointment my surgeon gave me the OK to take Naproxen, which has helped some with the pain. I am doing light stretches and some core strength exercises, and trying to get out walking every day, but I’m not really even close to being able to do what I thought I would be doing at this point. It’s quite a relief to know that my recovery story isn’t all that unusual!
Heather Trkovsky says
Thank you for your blog. My 41 year old runner husband had fusion surgery on November 22nd and his recovery has been NOTHING like what he was told or he expected. He is still in a lot of pain (it seems this is normal), but some days are better than others. Your blog is the only thing I have found that has been honest about recovery and at least we don’t feel “alone”.
Sharon Wilhelm says
My surgeon said 6 weeks, which is insanely inaccurate. Your husband is still super early in the recovery process, and the way he feels today won’t be anything like the way he feels at 6 months or a year post-op. I’m not back to running, but I also haven’t pushed myself to start. Are you on Instagram? I can give you a couple of accounts from spinal fusion runners to follow, if you’d like.
Heather Trkovsky says
I’m new to Instagram, but I’d love anything you can give me. I know he is early in the recovery process, but that doesn’t make the expectations vs. reality any easier to stomach. I’m hoping he will be able to get back to running and I asked him last night if he will take me skiing sometime (you are an inspiration). Thank you so much!
Sharon Wilhelm says
Hey Heather! I sent you a message on Instagram.
Are you able to send me these runners also to follow on Instagram. My email is email@example.com
Sharon Wilhelm says
Hey Bryan! I just saw this message – will email you ASAP.
Matt Noah says
Which fusion? The first, the second or the third?
I started with an L4/L5 microdiscectomy. Helped the back, gave my right leg lots of pain. The first L4/L5 fusion was supposed to be a laminectomy and was about 10 months after the micro. It didn’t help a bit. Ten months after the first fusion I had the second fusion, an L3/L4/L5 OLIF (oblique lateral interbody fusion). The first fusion had never fused. Two of the four screws just pulled out during the OLIF. The OLIF was even worse. I woke up with left leg and foot pain which I never had before. In addition, my right leg was about 4x more painful. The 3rd fusion surgery, 15 months after the OLIF was a anterior/posterior L5/S1 fusion. It seems to have done some good but I am very distant from being my old self. In addition, I’ve had 4 left leg surgeries that were the direct result of the botched OLIF. I’ve had all 3 peroneal nerves decompressed and a peripheral nerve stimulator implanted along my left superficial peroneal nerve.
Bottom line. Find the world’s best neurosurgeon you can find and afford before letting any hack cut into your back. Back surgery is not like a hip replacement.
I left out the 2 dozen imaging tests, the 3 dozen injections, the 3 EMGs (legalized torture), 1 right leg surgery and months of being at home recuperating. Then there is the physical therapy. I have added an electric wheelchair and back braces to my list of assistants and lots of daily drugs to my intake. If you’re scared of back surgery, you should be. Ask your surgeon how many people he has killed, paralyzed or put into wheelchairs and don’t let him get away without telling you the answers.
Sharon Wilhelm says
I’m really sorry to hear about your bad experiences, and I hope that at some point you will feel better than you do right now. Your advice about finding the best possible neurosurgeon is so important and a step that many (myself included) overlook. Thank you for the reminder.
I can’t imagine the ordeal you have encountered. I had L5/S1 fusion and some other procedures done on 19 September 2019, 2 weeks post op I got very ill and had to be taken to ER with 104.7 fever. They did emergency surgery due to a surgical site infection that was MRSA. I have been doing PT two times a week and while the incision has healed up nicely, the constant burning pain in the lower back doesn’t ever seem to leave. When I walk on the street , my back has the delayed pain train that pretty much knocks me off of my feet that will last for hours. When I ask questions regarding where the pain is coming from, I am told they don’t know. I have reached out to a neurosurgeon and am waiting to hear back from them to schedule an appointment. Unfortunately all of this coronavirus was has really put a damper on the medical community and the world. I pray that you are able to get some relief.
I found your site after searching for answers and people that are and have gone through this difficult and definitely painful experience. I was curious if you or anyone else that reads these had any luck with injections post op. It is nice to be able to communicate with others that are going through these difficult times also. I’m am glad you are better after the lengthy recovery.
Sharon Wilhelm says
Hi! I haven’t personally had post-op injections. Hopefully someone else on here has and can help you out? I’ll see if I can find any info about it for you…
Thank you so very much! I hope you are doing well.
I am almost at 6 months post op from the emergency surgery and have quite a bit of pain still, but am praying it is still going through the healing process. Your site has been more than helpful, it gives all of us a real sense of time and just how different our healing takes.