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If you are traveling after back surgery, by car, plane, or rail, you may have some understandable concerns. The good news is that the situation may be easier than you think! Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions that we get regarding travel after surgery.

How long after back surgery can I travel?

While the answer may vary depending on the specifics of your case and your overall health, you can often travel as soon after back surgery as your pain allows. Travel after a minimally invasive outpatient procedure may have different limitations than travel after a lumbar fusion, so it’s important to check with your doctor.

Remember that traveling after back surgery, by plane or car, in particular, may involve hours of sitting. While we recommend frequent breaks, as we will discuss below, If you are able to sit upright for a prolonged period of time after your surgery, you should have no problem with any type of travel.

How soon you can travel after back surgery will, and should, depend on your doctor’s recommendations, as they know your specific recovery progress best. for example, if your procedure required an inpatient hospital stay vs. a same-day, outpatient procedure, your travel plans may want to adjust.

But if things have gone to plan, and if you have followed your post-surgery instructions, then you may have few travel restrictions at all. Unless, of course, you plan to drive yourself.

After spine surgery, you may be prescribed pain medication. Don’t forget that driving under the influence of narcotics is illegal and unsafe. Johns Hopkins Medical Center says “You can drive when you feel up to driving and are not taking narcotic pain medications or after clearance by your surgeon.” the specific timing is dependent on your pain tolerance and how quickly you heal after surgery.

Do you have any tips for car travel after back surgery?

Car travel after back surgery can be a bit uncomfortable. Here are our recommendations for making it easier on yourself.

Take frequent breaks

Plan extra time into your journey that permits you to stop more frequently than you otherwise would. We recommend stopping at least every hour to permit you to move around. This will help you to avoid blood clots, and unnecessary stiffness.

Walk around

Driving or flying after surgery can be hard on your body, but it may also lead to blood clots of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). It’s important to get out of the car and walk short distances and stretch as recommended by your doctor. For air travel, getting out of your seat and walking between your seat and the galley may be plenty.

Adjust your Seat

Remember that car travel can be full of bumps and vibrations. So if you are traveling after back surgery by car, do what you can to make yourself comfortable. Many people find that reclining their seats helps distribute the weight and makes the bumps easier to handle.

Pillows and blankets

Speaking of relief, if you can, surround yourselves with pillows and blankets in the car. In fact, you may also want to consider other postoperative must-haves (here’s a full list), like ice, heat, and more.

Follow your doctor’s instructions

Probably the most important piece of equipment you can have on your road trip is your doctor’s instructions. Just because you are traveling, don’t neglect the guidance about when and how to move, stretch, twist, or bend. Traveling after back surgery, by car, or otherwise, is a perfectly fine thing to do unless it sets your recovery back.

We recommend discussing your plans with your provider before you go. And make a concrete plan based on their advice. As we’ve said before, “you should follow these specific instructions very carefully, and do not hesitate to ask for clarification if you need it. Failure to follow the directions carefully may result in permanent nerve damage after back surgery.”

If you follow these instructions, and those from your provider, you should be better situated to have a great trip!

For more information, or if you need a consultation, contact Desert Spine and Scoliosis Center today.