Personal care after scoliosis surgery

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After scoliosis surgery, there are some personal care issues you may be faced with. Read the experiences of other teens that also had scoliosis surgery.

Key points

  • Most girls get their menstrual period around the time of surgery. This is a normal response to stress.
  • Stitches will close the incision on your back. After about two days, you will get a smaller bandage on your back, which will be removed before you go home and replaced with Steri-Strips.
  • You will work up to a full diet before going home.
  • A Foley catheter stays in your bladder for about three to four days after surgery.
  • You will not have a bowel movement for four to five days due to the anaesthesia and pain medication, but will need to have a bowel movement before you can go home.
  • It is important you drinks fluids to prevent bladder infections and constipation.
  • Painkillers should be taken in response to back pain rather than abdominal discomfort.
  • You need to be able to manage pain through oral medication rather than an IV before you can go home.
  • You should try to take deep breaths occasionally and cough to open up and clear airways.

Your menstrual period

Most females will get their menstrual period around the time of the surgery. This is a normal response to stress.

You might worry about having your period while you are in the hospital, when you will be unable to care for yourself like you usually do. Don’t worry. Your nurses are very familiar with this situation and will do everything they can to make you feel comfortable. The hospital has a supply of pads or you can bring your own if you wish. You won’t be able to use tampons while you are in the hospital.

"I got my period the night before the surgery when I was staying here in a hotel. They said it was due to stress but that was the day that I was actually supposed to get it and then it came. I missed one period when I got home from the hospital."

"I got my period right after the surgery while I was in the hospital even though I’d already had it two weeks before the surgery. It wasn’t that difficult to manage because the nurses were a huge help. They made me feel very comfortable even though I was really embarrassed because I couldn’t do anything myself. They were a huge help and acted more as my friend than a nurse."

Your back dressing

The surgeon will use stitches to close up your incision. If the stitches are internal, meaning under the skin, they don’t need to be removed as they will dissolve on their own. If the stitches are external, they will need to be removed in seven to 10 days.

Steri-Strips, which look like small pieces of tape, are placed across the incision to keep it well-aligned for healing. Your back will be covered by a large bulky dressing that remains in place for approximately two days. The nurse will remove the large dressing and replace it with a much smaller one. This smaller dressing will be removed just before you leave the hospital to go home.

The Steri-Strips tend to dry up and peel off by themselves. Sometimes, Steri-Strips will stay stuck to your back. It helps to take them off after you have had a shower. Make sure the Steri-Strips get wet, and your mom or dad can remove them. This is much like removing a wet band-aid.

"It was really uncomfortable when the nurses took off the big back dressing. But when it came off, it was such a relief off of my shoulders. The bandages didn’t affect my sleeping at all. It just felt kind of awkward."

Your diet

Immediately following surgery, you will not be able to drink or eat anything. It takes a while for your stomach and intestines to wake up from the anaesthetic. The first day after your surgery, you may be allowed to have ice chips and sips of water.

Soon your intestines will start to "wake up." You will start passing gas and the nurse will hear bowel sounds when they listen to your tummy with a stethoscope. At this point, you can have broth, clear juices, or Jell-O. You will gradually work up to a full diet before you go home.

Bowel and bladder function

A tube called a Foley catheter stays in place in your bladder for about three days following your surgery. The catheter will drain the urine from your body so you won’t have to use the toilet. Once the catheter is removed, you will be peeing on your own.

The anaesthesia and pain medication makes your stomach and intestines move very slowly. As a result, you probably won’t have a bowel movement for four to five days. You will likely have stomach bloating and pass a lot of gas. This is a normal response. The doctor will want to make sure that your stomach and intestines are working normally again before you go home. This means you will need to have a bowel movement before you can leave the hospital. The nurse can give you a laxative or suppository if you are constipated.

Once your nurse or doctor gives you the go-ahead, it’s important to keep drinking water. This prevents bladder infections and also helps prevent constipation. Getting out of bed and walking around also helps to pass gas, reduce bloating, and prevent constipation.

"I started drinking water three or four days after my surgery but I was given ice to eat in the meantime. The nurses gave me a laxative on the day before the catheter and pain pump were removed. It worked right away. I didn’t end up being constipated after that."

Standing, sitting, and walking

Most teens will be sitting up in bed and standing on the first day after surgery. This is done gradually as you may feel very dizzy and lightheaded the first time you sit up. This is a normal response. It takes a while for your body to adjust from lying down for several days to being upright again.

You will work up to short walks to the bathroom. Eventually you will be able to walk for longer distances, such as down the hall. Most teens who have had scoliosis surgery find they feel better when they get up and move around. By the time you are ready to go home, you will be able to get in and out of bed by yourself.

"The very first day after you have surgery, they come in and tell you to get out of bed, and you’re like, ‘these are the meanest people I’ve ever met in my life.’ But actually, that’s the best thing to do. Sitting down hurts more than lying down. Lying down or walking are best when you’re sore."

Pain control

You will be on the patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pump for the first three days following your surgery. Usually by day four, you will start taking your pain medication by mouth (not all patients take pills) and stop using the pump. This way, the doctors and nurses can make sure that your pain is well-controlled before you go home. It is important that you can manage your pain before you go home by taking the medication in oral form instead of through an IV.

Scoliosis and pain management


Coughing and deep breathing exercises

Most people tend not to breathe deeply when they are in pain. However, it’s important to regularly take deep breaths and cough to open up and clear your airways. This also helps to keep the lower lobes of your lungs clear of fluid. Sometimes, your nurse or physiotherapist will give you a breathing apparatus that encourages you to breathe deeply.

Last updated: June 1st 2008