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What will be done to make my back incision safe after surgery?

Dr. Charles E. Johnston, II

Texas Scottish Rite Hospital Orthopedic Group

A sterile bandage is applied in the o.r., and it is usually changed on the second or third day to a new clean one.

Dr. Dennis G. Crandall

Mesa, AZ

We routinely close incisions with several layers of self dissolving suture that does not require removal. The closed incision is further held together with steri-strips to help keep the scar thin. A sterile dressing is kept over it and changed daily for a week. After that, the incision is usually healed enough to not require further dressings.

Dr. Michael F. O'Brien

Denver Orthopaedics

For the first 48 - 72 hours the incision will be covered by a sterile dressing placed in the operating room. Thereafter, the dressing will be removed and the incision inspected at least once a day by physicians and nurses after which a new dressing will be placed. Typically by 4-5 days after surgery the dressing will be removed. After approximately 10 days the dressings may be entirely removed and if any staples or sutures remain outside of the skin, these also will be removed. After approximately 4-5 days the incision can be bathed without concern.

Dr. Robert S. Pashman

Los Angeles, CA

It is my practice to keep a dressing over the patient's incision for 48 hours after surgery. After the wound has sealed, which normally occurs within that 48 hours, significant protection is usually unnecessary.

Dr. Christopher L. Hamill

Buffalo General HospitalBuffalo General Hospital

A dressing for 48 hours then removal.

Dr. Jean-Pierre C. Farcy

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

A dressing will be applied over the wound closure to protect it. This dressing will be replaced before you get out of bed and leave the hospital. The dressing should be kept on the wound during a few more days until the wound has healed.

Dr. David W. Polly, Jr.

Minneapolis, MN

Usually you will have a "dressing" on your incision for 3-5 days after surgery. After that it is usually okay to leave it uncovered. Typically you can shower about a week after the surgery, but you shouldn't soak the incision (be underwater in the tub) for about three weeks.

Dr. W. Christopher Urban

Glen Burnie, MD

Your incision will be covered with a sterile dressing that is applied in the operating room. This dressing is typically left on for 2 days and then removed so that the incision can be inspected. A dry dressing is then used to cover the wound until it seals. After about a week, the incision is sealed and no longer requires a dressing. At this point, it is safe to take a shower. Limiting exposure of the incision to the sun during the first six months also helps to reduce scar visibility.

Dr. James Mooney, III

Detroit, MI

A dressing will remain on your back until your physician feels it is safe for it to be uncovered.

Dr. Scott J. Luhmann

St. Louis, MO

The initial dressing that is applied in the operating room is removed, on average, four days after surgery along with the surgical drains. After this time, the incision is typically left open to air without any dressing covering the wound. The incision should be kept clean and dry for a total of two weeks after surgery.

Dr. Robert W. Molinari

Rochester, NY

A tissue sealant is placed over the suture, which serves as a protective barrier.

Dr. Baron S. Lonner

New York, NY

The closure of your incision is done with sutures that are placed under the skin and will not be removed. The incision is held together further with Steri-strips which take tension off the incision to enhance the healing process. In addition, a dressing will be applied over the incision for the first several days until the incision is completely dry. Thereafter, a dressing is not required and a shower may be taken without concern for the incision after two weeks. One week after the surgery plastic wrap can be placed over the incision and taped so that the incision is kept dry. This will ensure that the Steri-strips do not fall off prematurely, possibly allowing the incision to spread.

Dr. Stephen Ondra

Chicago, IL

The majority of the stitches in your back are done under the skin. This makes the wound very strong. Many patients have only bandage strips on the skin. If you have stitches or staples, we remove them about one week after surgery and put little bandages across the wound. These will stay in place for another week. After 2 weeks, the incision is usually well healed and keeps from opening up. Patients are also allowed to shower after any drains that are placed during surgery are removed. If there are no drains, you can shower on the 3rd post-operative day.

Dr. Patrick Bosch

Albuquerque, NM

We use sutures to close the incision and pull the muscles back together. We then reinforce it with special tape (“steri-strips”) and a dressing. In most cases, within 2 weeks your own healing has progressed to where your skin is strong enough for you to take showers or baths.

Dr. Thomas G. Lowe

Woodridge Orthopaedics & Spine Center, P.C.

I use a padded bandage that is kept on for the first 48 hours after the surgery. It is comfortable to lie on. After that, the incision is left uncovered to promote healing. I never let my patient's go out in the sun without a dark cover over their incision for the first six months to prevent scarring. Usually in the incisions are healed very nicely in approximately two weeks so that going into a swimming pool is possible as long as the incision is covered. Usually showers can be taken on the fourth or fifth day following the surgery.

Dr. John T. Smith

University of Utah Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

Most dressing are kept on the patient for the first three days. They are then left off in order for the incision to air. Patients are allowed to bathe after 5-7 days, as a rule, since absorbable stitches are often used, which don't require removal.

Dr. John P. Lubicky

Chicago, IL
Shriner's Hospital for Children

Initially there will be a dressing on your back, but the wounds heal up very quickly and there really shouldn't be anything specific that needs to be done. However, early on after the surgery you will need to take care not to expose your wound to bright sunlight or other ultraviolet rays, because it can have an effect on how the scar looks.

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