Children's Hospital Colorado

Common Spine Surgery Questions

In the background, a patient with long brown hair watches as a doctor holds a white plastic skeleton of the hips, which is shown clearly in the foreground. Best Children's Hospital by US News Orthopedics 2020-1 Badge

It's common to feel overwhelmed by an upcoming surgery. That's why our pediatric spine team provides as much information as possible during appointments and in Spine Class to help you prepare.

But in addition to surgical questions, our patients often want to know what might change in their day-to-day lives after surgery. We’ve answered a few of the most popular questions.

How long will I be in the hospital after spine surgery?

Patients are typically in the hospital two to three days for spine surgery and recovery.

How long do I have to wait to shower after surgery?

You’ll have the opportunity shower at least once while you're in the hospital. When you get home, you can shower as often as you’d like. It’s best to avoid a bath, the swimming pool and hot tubs until your surgeon says it's okay.

What should I know about transitioning back to school after spine surgery?

Most patients go back to school within two to three weeks after surgery. You might start by going for half a day at first. It's OK to carry a lightweight backpack and it’s a good idea to ask your school for two sets of books — one set for school and one set for home. Our team can provide a letter of recommendation for this if needed. You can slowly take part in PE class as you feel able. It’s also OK to ride the school bus.

When can I return to sports or other physical activities after spine surgery?

You’ll have a checkup approximately six weeks after surgery. If you’re progressing well at that visit, your surgeon may let you restart your normal schedule. Be careful and take it easy. Your return to sports should be gradual because you need to increase your endurance and regain your strength.

How do I take care of my spine after scoliosis surgery?

  • Limit strenuous activity. Scarred skin can take six to eight weeks to regain its full strength and is only 70 to 80% as strong as never-injured skin. To promote good healing, we recommend limiting strenuous activities for four to six weeks, especially activities that might stress the wound.
  • Massage your scars. Four weeks after surgery, we recommend starting scar massage with petroleum-based ointments, scar gel or cream.
    • Your doctor or pharmacist can provide specific recommendations.
    • Massage three to five times per day for five minutes for several months after the surgery.
    • Use a firm, circular motion when rubbing in the lotion, and apply just enough pressure to change the skin color.
    • Lotion will decrease itchiness, increase skin smoothness and help elasticity.
  • Apply sunscreen. Make sure to use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. This is most important to use in the first one to two years after surgery when healing scars can develop permanent discoloration.
  • Use creams and ointments. Creams and ointments, such as cocoa butter, vitamin E and bio-oils, are perfectly fine as long as you don’t experience a rash or reaction. The keys to minimizing the appearance of scars include massage, protection from the sun, silicone and a favorable wound healing environment — moist and warm is best.

Do I need to use a rolling backpack?

Not necessarily. There are no weight restrictions after surgery, but we do recommend carrying a lightweight backpack because it’s more comfortable. We’ll provide you a letter for school that recommends they give you an additional set of books — one set for home and one set for school. That way, you won't have to carry as many heavy books in your backpack. Some patients do get a rolling backpack, but that's a personal preference.

What should I expect when I go through airport security?

We haven’t had reports of spine surgery implants setting off alarms at airport security. But it could happen in the future if airports increase the sensitivity of their machines. We recommend getting a copy of your X-rays after surgery and carrying them with you. Some patients print a small, laminated copy to carry in their wallet.

Is there anything else I should know for travel?

Always wear your seat belt. On long trips, it’s best to stop every couple of hours to walk because you may find it difficult to sit for long periods of time. We also suggest using a stepstool if you have an SUV or other vehicle that is higher than a regular car.

Will I be taller?

Most scoliosis patients gain 1 to 1.5 inches in height.

Will I experience constipation after spine surgery?

Pain medicine can cause constipation for some patients after spine surgery. Additional medicine can help your stools become more regular. Your pharmacist or provider can help you choose the best medicine for you. A few examples include Colace or docusate, Senna, MiraLAX, suppositories and Milk of Magnesia. You can find these at the drugstore.

Is there anything I should know about tattoos or piercings?

Within three months of your surgery date, do not get any new tattoos or piercings. Notify your nurse if any existing tattoos or piercings become infected during this three-month window. It’s best to wait one year from the date of surgery to get new piercings or tattoos.

The Connection Journey: Growing through Scoliosis

It's never easy to learn your child has a serious condition that may require surgery. Jessica and her parents share their spine surgery experience with Emily and her dad as they prepare for her upcoming scoliosis surgery.

Watch their journeys