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How soon will I be able to eat and drink after surgery?

Dr. Baron S. Lonner

New York, NY

You will be gradually started on liquids one or two days following the operation and you will be advanced to a regular diet as tolerated. There is a delay in feeding you due to the fact that your bowels slow down as a normal response to spinal surgery and general anesthesia. In some cases, surgery is staged into two operations separated by a week or more. In those cases, patients may be given special IV feeding, termed TPN, total parenteral nutrition, to maintain your nutritional levels.

Dr. John T. Smith

University of Utah Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

Once you are wide awake, you can begin eating ice chips and progress slowly with your diet by the first or second day after surgery. Occasionally, this type of surgery slows down the entire digestive system. Patients prefer not to eat just after surgery, and may feel somewhat bloated. This is a temporary condition, and may be made worse by the pain medication. Usually, once you are mobilized, the bloating and slowed digestion tends to improve significantly.

Dr. John P. Lubicky

Chicago, IL
Shriner's Hospital for Children

This depends on how soon your intestines start to work. Typically you will have what is called an NG tube (nasogastric tube) which is a tube that goes through your nose down into your stomach. What happens when you have spinal surgery is that the intestine gets "paralyzed" temporarily, and when the intestines start to contract again your doctors will hear what are called bowel sounds, and when that occurs if you have an NG tube it will be clamped and then removed, and then you will be allowed to eat or drink. If you eat or drink before your intestines start to contract, you will end up vomiting, and so in order to avoid that there is a period of time that you must refrain from eating and drinking.

Dr. Charles E. Johnston, II

Texas Scottish Rite Hospital Orthopedic Group

Usually on the first day after surgery you can take liquids, and solid food by the third day.

Dr. Frank J. Schwab

New York, NY

After surgery you will feel tired from anesthesia and depending upon the type of operation your body may not be ready for food or drink by mouth. It is important that you do not eat or drink until you are fully awake to avoid choking or poor swallowing. Once the surgical team has evaluated you, you may begin by drinking only clear liquids. If this is tolerated well, you will slowly be advanced to a soft and then regular diet in the next 12-24 hours. In certain cases, such as following surgery on the front of the spine (anterior) your surgeon may delay your diet until your abdominal function has returned to normal. This may take several days and in the meantime you will receive fluid and nutrition through an intravenous (IV) line.

Dr. Patrick Bosch

Albuquerque, NM

Your diet will evolve slowly after surgery as your appetite increases. Most patients are sipping water and eating Jello the day after surgery, and are back to hamburgers and pizza by the time they go home 3-5 days later.

Dr. Robert S. Pashman

Los Angeles, CA

Most patients can take sips of water or other liquids within three to four hours after surgery. Solid food is usually offered to the patient within 24 hours of having surgery.

Dr. James Mooney, III

Detroit, MI

Patient's diet is advanced slowly after surgery as the GI tract works somewhat slowly because of the surgery itself as well as pain medication. Usually, patients begin to take some liquids the first day after surgery and advance to a regular diet over a course of two to three days.

Dr. Jean-Pierre C. Farcy

New York, NY
M.M.C. Spine Center

As a rule you will be able to drink as soon as the nurses and physicians hear your bowel sounds and you will be able to eat safely as soon as you pass gas or have a bowel movement.

Dr. Stephen Ondra

Chicago, IL

Patients can eat and drink after surgery once their bowels are working normally. This typically occurs the 1st or 2nd day after surgery.

Dr. Robert W. Molinari

Rochester, NY

Usually, you will be able to eat and drink the day after surgery.

Dr. Christopher L. Hamill

Buffalo, NY
Buffalo General Hospital

24 to 48 hours.

Dr. Thomas G. Lowe

Woodridge Orthopaedics & Spine Center, P.C.

Most adolescent patients are able to take sips of water the day following the surgery. Occasionally, the stomach muscles don't recover from the anesthetic for a couple of days and that may be delayed. Generally, once they are up and around and walking, the stomach and intestines start to work pretty rapidly and eating solid foods is possible the second or third day after the surgery.

Dr. Dennis G. Crandall

Mesa, AZ

The bowel goes to sleep with general anesthesia and pain medication. If you eat too soon after surgery, you will throw up. We will start you on ice chips and sips of water, and slowly advance your diet as soon as your bowel wakes up. Most patients are back eating regular food within a few days of surgery.

Dr. W. Christopher Urban

Glen Burnie, MD

Typically, patients who have had a posterior fusion are allowed to drink liquids the day after surgery. If this is well tolerated, the diet may be advanced to solid food. In procedures that involve anterior surgery through the abdomen, the digestive system may slow down. In this situation, the diet is advanced more cautiously to avoid nausea or bloating.

Dr. Michael F. O'Brien

Denver Orthopaedics

If the surgical procedures involved an anterior approach to the lumbar spine requiring mobilization of the intestines, the patient may not be able to eat for several days after surgery. However, since most surgical procedures for scoliosis do not require this anterior approach and since anterior approaches to the thoracic spine and posterior approaches to the thoracic spine do not require mobilization of the intestines, patients are allowed to eat as soon as desired. Typically the diet starts with clear fluids to be sure that the stomach is ready to accept food and if the patient has no problems with clear fluids the diet is advanced to regular food as soon as the patient wishes.

Dr. Scott J. Luhmann

St. Louis, MO

You can usually start drinking clear liquids such as water, sodas, etc., immediately after surgery. Since the stomach does not function normally initially after surgery, oral intake is limited. As the stomach starts to work more normally, the diet is advance to normal fluids and solid foods. This may take three to four days after surgery, as pain medication can cause some nausea and vomiting, which can slow down the return of normal stomach function.

Dr. David W. Polly, Jr.

Minneapolis, MN

You will be able to start eating and drinking once your tummy wakes up (the gurgling and passing gas from your bottom).

The commentary above recounts the experiences of these physicians. Medtronic invited them to share their stories candidly. Keep in mind that results vary; not every patient's response is the same. Talk with your doctor to learn more about any products that are mentioned above.

It is important that you discuss the potential risks, complications and benefits of spinal surgery with your doctor prior to receiving treatment, and that you rely on your doctor's judgment. Only your doctor can determine whether you are a suitable candidate for this treatment.

  • Published: June 20, 2002
  • Updated: April 19, 2010