Spine Care

St. Elizabeth has a unique, comprehensive program for people undergoing spine surgery. Thousands of people will experience back or neck pain at some time in their lives. For many, it will develop into chronic pain that causes serious lifestyle limitations. When surgery is the solution, we provide you and your family with access to the latest technologies and advancements and a program that will assure the best outcomes.

Preparing for Surgery

Back surgery patients recover quickly. Patients will be able to walk hours after their surgery. Generally patients are able to return to driving in two to four weeks and activities such as dancing in eight weeks.

The St. Elizabeth Spine Care Center features include:

  • A class prior to the surgery
  • Nurses and therapists who specialize in the care of spine patients
  • Physical and occupational therapists who will educate about back protection and about energy conservation techniques that can be used during activities of daily living, work, and leisure.
  • Education for family and friends so they can participate as “coaches” in the recovery process.

St. Elizabeth and our team of experts are here to answer your questions and concerns. A Patient Guide for Spine Care will be shared with you during the Pre-Operative class. Information will be shared with you regarding:

As you prepare for surgery, there are many things you may want to consider.

  • You will need to schedule a pre-operative visit to your primary care physician five to seven days before your surgery. This will serve as the physical exam required to ensure you can have surgery and may include laboratory tests, x-rays, and an EKG.
  • Consult with your physician on the medications you are taking. Sevens days before surgery stop all medications containing aspirin and anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin, Motrin, Naproxen, etc. These medications may cause increased bleeding. If you are on Coumadin, you will need special instructions from your doctor who prescribed it. Continue taking your regular medications.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will I need to wear a brace after spine surgery?

After spine fusion surgery, braces are often utilized. Depending on the situation, some braces are either more firm and supportive while others may be softer and primarily to provide some comfort. Your doctor will decide what brace is best for you based upon your spine condition and the type of surgery performed.

Explain spinal stenosis.

"Stenosis" means "narrow". Your spinal cord and nerves travel through the center of the spine. Over time, wear and tear lead to the formation of degenerative arthritis of the bones and joints. The arthritic changes include thickening of the bones, and thickening and calcification of the connecting ligaments. Slowly, these thickening structures begin to cause narrowing of the channel where the nerves run. The nerves are pushed into a tighter spot resulting in nerve pain, numbness and weakness.

When will I be able to eat after spinal fusion?

After surgery there is often a period of time where the stomach is uneasy and not able to tolerate foods or liquids. The length of this stomach upset is variable but may range from a few hours to 72 hours depending on the nature of the surgery.

How should I care for my incision after surgery?

All incisions should be kept clean and dry until the skin seals over in about 7 to ten days. Showers are usually permitted but an effort should be made to avoid spraying the water directly on the wound.

How will my pain be controlled after surgery?

Pain management is individualized depending upon the patient's history, type of surgery and the reported level of subjective pain. The medications are meant to help reduce but not completely eliminate the pain. Medications are administered either by mouth or intravenously. On occasions, the patient will have a certain degree of control with the use of a "PCA" (patient controlled anesthesia) where they can push a button to receive a dose of intravenous medication.

When should I expect pain relief after spinal surgery?

Pain relief after spinal surgery may take time. There is much variability on the rate and extent of pain relief. Nerves may be sensitive. Depending on your particular spinal issue, your Doctor may provide you with an estimated time range of when improvement may be realized. However, many times this is an uncertain prediction. If the symptoms are worsening after surgery, you should contact your doctor.

How important is exercise after surgery?

Exercise is a crucial factor in successful post-operative recovery. Global health and wellness including cardio-vascular fitness, muscle strengthening, joint flexibility, optimized nutrition, and avoidance of harmful habits (including use of alcohol and tobacco products) are essential. Attention to these will speed natural healing and reduce some residual symptoms.

When will I be able to walk after surgery?

Walking will be encouraged almost immediately after surgery. Inactivity including lying in bed, while maybe more comfortable after surgery, actually can contribute to problems including blood clots, pulmonary congestion, stiff joints, weak muscles. Walking gets everything moving and helps to prevent some of these issues.

Will I need a walker or cane after surgery?

A cane or walker may be needed to help with walking and mobility while in the hospital and even once home. Use will depend upon your progress and needs.

How long will I be hospitalized?

Hospitalization length is somewhat difficult to predict but will generally range 1-5 days. Your doctor can give you an individualized estimate.

Will I be able to return to my own home after my hospital stay?

Some people will require acute physical rehabilitation prior to going home. Those patients who are older, have more medical problems and need more help with walking and mobility may benefit from a period of additional therapy.

Will I need physical or occupational therapy?

Your progress with walking and function will be assessed by your doctor. Physical therapy and occupational therapy will be arranged on an individualized basis depending on the patient's particular needs.

What other alternatives can I try before I consider surgery?

Your doctor will discuss any potential, reasonable non-operative treatment alternatives with you pre-operatively. This is your chance to ask all of your questions so that you can make a decision that is right for you.

When is an anterior lumbar fusion performed, and when is posterior lumbar fusion performed?

Many factors go into the decision regarding the use of anterior (from the front), posterior (from the back) and anterior-posterior (front and back) for spinal surgery. The doctor considers each patient individually:

  • What is the general medical condition?
  • Wow is the spinal alignment and positioning?
  • How is the bone quality?
  • Where are the nerves pinched?
  • How many areas are involved in the process?
  • Has there been previous surgery? 

No two patients are the same. That is why one person can't compare themselves to another. There is usually more than one way to approach a particular problem. The overall recommendation derives from weighing the risks versus the benefits for a particular approach.

There may be reasonable differences of opinion between doctors. Spine surgery is not an exact science. However, recent advances have been significant and continuing progress is being made.

Team of Surgeons

Benjamin R. Gelber, MD


Eric W. Pierson, MD


Daniel R. Ripa, MD

Orthopedic Surgery - Spine,
Orthopedic Surgery

Daniel J. Tomes, MD


Steven J. Volin, MD

Orthopedic Surgery - Spine,
Orthopedic Surgery