Children's Hospital Colorado
Orthopedics Institute
Orthopedics Institute

Spine Surgery Frequently Asked Questions

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 our preoperative spine class to prepare you for your scoliosis surgery.

Beyond surgical questions, our patients often have questions about what will change in their day-to-day lives after surgery. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions our patients ask.

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

    You will have one shower while you're in the hospital, and then you will be able to shower at home as you wish. You will not be able to bathe in a tub, go swimming or get in hot tubs until your surgeon says it's okay.

  2. 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 as it is more comfortable. We also provide you with a letter for school recommending two sets of books (one for home and one 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.

  3. What should I expect when I go through airport security?

    We have not had reports of the spine surgery implants setting off alarms in airport security, but that 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.

  4. Is there anything else I should know for travel?

    • Always wear your seat belt.
    • Stop every couple of hours to walk during long trips because you may find it hard to sit for a long time.
    • We suggest using a stepstool if you have an SUV or other vehicle that is higher than a regular car.
  5. Will I be taller?

    Most patients gain one to 1.5 inches in height.

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

    You will return to see your surgeon at about six weeks after surgery. If you are progressing well at that visit, they will release you back to full activities. Of course, returning to sports should be gradual because you need to increase your endurance and gain your strength back after surgery.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.
    • Start by going for half a day at first.
    • It's okay to carry a lightweight backpack.
    • It's a good idea to ask your school for two sets of books (one for home and one for school). Our team can provide a letter with this recommendation for your school.
    • You may slowly take part in PE as you feel able.
    • You may ride the school bus.
  9. Will I experience constipation after spine surgery?

    Pain medicine can cause constipation for some patients after spine surgery. Medicine can help alleviate this constipation. Your pharmacist or provider can help you choose the best medicine for you. A few examples include: Colace (docusate), Senna, Miralax, suppositories and Milk of Magnesia. You can find these in the drugstore.

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

    • Limit strenuous activity. Scarred skin can take up to six to eight weeks to regain its full strength, which is approximately 70 to 80% as strong as never-injured skin. To promote good healing, we recommend limiting strenuous activities, particularly those that would stress the incision four to six weeks postoperatively.
    • Massage your scars. Beginning four weeks after surgery, we recommend starting scar massage with petroleum-based ointments or scar gels/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 help decrease the itching.
      • The lotion massage will also help the skin be more elastic and smooth.
    • 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 if they do not cause a rash or reaction to the ingredients. The keys to minimizing the appearance of scars include massage, protection from the sun, silicone and a favorable wound healing environment (we believe moist and warm is best).
  11. Is there anything I should know about tattoos or piercings?

    • Do not get any new tattoos or piercings any time within the three months prior to your surgery date.
    • Notify your nurse if any existing tattoos or piercings become infected during this three-month window.
    • Wait one year from the date of surgery before getting any 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