How to Sleep After a Spinal Fusion

Spinal fusion is a type of back surgery that locks together vertebrae of the spine, either using a bone graft or implanted hardware. For example, this procedure might be performed to stabilize damaged vertebrae or halt severe scoliosis, a progressive curvature of the spine. Someone having a spinal fusion needs to consider how to sleep afterward, to allow the rest required for recovery while avoiding additional pain and possible failure of the fusion. While the surgery may be straightforward, pain and comfort can make sleeping a challenge for some time afterward.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Take your pain medication as prescribed by your surgeon or another medical professional, allowing enough time before sleeping for the medication to begin taking effect.

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Put on any hard collar or brace as directed by your surgeon. These can prevent your spine from twisting in a position that it shouldn't while recovering.

Prop pillows up on the bed to support your neck and shoulders. Sleeping at a slightly elevated angle may be more comfortable and reduce the strain on your spine.

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Sit at the edge of the mattress when getting in or out of bed, providing support to your buttocks. Turn your entire body when you move your legs in or out of bed to prevent twisting your spine. Ask for help if you are in too much pain to accomplish this.

Place a pillow under your knees. This keeps your spine supported and properly aligned while lying down.

Lay back 1. You may require help to support your neck as you recline.

Sleep on your back. If you tend to roll over in your sleep, place pillows on either side of you. Creating a "pillow wall" can help prevent you from rolling over, and also keep you properly aligned.

Sleep for whatever length of time you can tolerate. If it becomes too painful to remain lying down, carefully get out of bed and do some moderate activity. It may be difficult to sleep for extended periods of time after surgery because of the pain, the restrictiveness of any collar or brace you may need to wear, overall lack of mobility and reduced daily exertion.


Many prescription pain medications used after surgery are narcotic drugs, which should be used only under the care of a medical professional and taken only as prescribed. If the medication you are taking fails to alleviate your pain, ask your surgeon or health care provider about other medications you might try, as opposed to taking more of the ineffective drug.