View Full Version : Dealing with Hair After Surgery

Ginger W.
05-01-2008, 11:15 PM
Dear Friends,

May 20th (my surgery date) is coming and what am I thinking about? My hair!

I would love some wisdom from you post-surgery folks ...

1. When were you able to wash your own hair for the first time?

2. Is there a problem with the shampoo getting into the surgery site? If so, how did you manage it?

3. When could you handle a blow dryer and/or curling iron and make your hair look decent?

4. How did you deal with dying your hair? I dye my own and then rinse off the dye in the shower. Once again, I'm concerned about the dye getting in contact with the surgery site. Did any of you find a way to work around that obstacle?

It's so phenomenal that you post-surgery people are willing to share your knowledge with us greenies. I really REALLY appreciate each one of you who is willing to take the time and do this for us.


05-01-2008, 11:28 PM
Ginger, I'm so glad you started this thread. I was wondering some of the same questions just today...my surgery is the day after yours.

This surgery is actually my second one. After my first one, I couldn't shower for about 2 and a half weeks until I went back to see my doctor so he could check the scar. Up until that point I still had dressing on my wound that couldn't get wet.

Before my surgery, I had a friend put my hair in those little braids like when you go to Jamaica which made my hair really easy to take care of for those weeks that I couldn't shower. I don't think I want to do that this time so I was wondering if anyone had any tips.

I've heard of waterless shampoo...can that really work though??
Also, people have recommended using baby powder to get rid of grease.
Does anybody have any ideas of how I might wash my hair or manage it in some way for those weeks that I can't shower?

Thanks for all your help everybody!!!!

05-02-2008, 07:16 AM
iluvmath!, I don't have any suggestions for washing hair... my daughter just did her best and kept it tied back.

I wanted to ask if your surgeon knows or has a guess as to why your fusion failed.

My daughter was fused T4-L1 on 26 March and we are trying to be careful about limiting her movement and not taking certain meds and all but I'm wondering if surgeons know the reason why some fusions fail. Does anyone know if is it all empirical guesswork after the fact?

Thanks in advance.


I worked in Madison for several years and my daughters were born there. :)

05-02-2008, 07:21 AM
This is exactly the sort of thing I fretted about before my surgery, too!

I have short bleached-blond hair so before surgery I had it cut VERY short and darkened it back to almost its natural color so I didn't have to worry about roots. On Day 5 or 6 in the hospital, some guy came around with a bucket and tubes and plastic sheeting, offering to shampoo hair for $25 - and even though I was semi-conscious from all the drugs I yelled "Over here!" He covered the end of the bed in a bunch of plastic and somehow managed to wash my hair right there on the bed. To this day I have no idea how he did it. But I felt sooooo much better afterwards. I had a private nurse and she used "Pssst" on my hair after that (the dry shampoo). I didn't get a real shower until I was in rehab, about 10 days after surgery. By then it was okay to let my back get wet but I noticed the nurse did keep shampoo away from the staples and steri-strips.

Once I was home I had a hairdresser friend come over to the house and trim my hair every few weeks. I wasn't ready for the salon until I was around 5 months post-op, so I'm really glad I didn't have to worry about roots. I felt like a million bucks when I finally went blond again!!!

05-02-2008, 07:28 AM
Ah that reminded me. My daughter did have her hair washed in the hospital. They had an inflatable sink type thing that they used in her bed. She felt great afterwards.

05-02-2008, 09:13 AM
I was like Singer, in getting my hair cut really short just before the surgery. It helped tons. But those of you with long locks can manage ok-- just be sure to get it tied back out of the way... This may not be much help, but it worked out ok for me. About the 8th or 9th day :eek: in the hospital the occupational therapist helped me wash my hair. We just got a tub of water, used a wash cloth to get it fairly wet, lathered it, and then rinsed it the best we could by dumping water from a glass on it and trying to get the suds out that way. We had a couple of towels around my shoulders and she tried to catch the excess water with the tub. I know that doesn't sound that great, but it sure made me feel good to finally have clean hair. :D That's how my hubby helped me with it after we got home, too, until I felt like I could try getting into the shower.

When a different Occ. therapist came to my house, she gave me a sample that I never used, because the other method seemed ok. But they do sell "shampoo caps"-- it's a self-contained gizmo that is an all-in-one, rinse-free shampoo and conditioner, all in a shower type cap. You microwave it for 30 seconds, put it on and massage it for a couple minutes, then take it off and towel dry. I think they work fairly well.

iluvmath!-- your "baby powder" tidbit flooded me with memories. When I was a teen, my mother (and I hated her for this!) would not let me wash my hair when I had a cold. They used to sell a "dry shampoo" kit at the drugstore that was like baby powder, and you put a little terrycloth piece of fabric over a comb, so that the teeth were out and the terry cloth was at the inside edge of the base. You sprinkled the powder in your hair and rubbed it around, then combed out the powder-- and it brought the oils with it, sticking to the terrycloth. How gross! But it did work better than nothing. I usually just waited till she was gone somewhere and then quickly jumped in the tub and did a REAL wash. Heh heh heh.... ;)

As far as getting my hair dyed... my hubby always helped me before, but we switched to paying to have it done afterward. I haven't figured out how to do it by rinsing it off in the shower, as I think I would make a huge mess (!) but have heard that works for people. You won't be able to bend over the sink to rinse...

By the time I left the hospital (11 days there) I didn't have any dressing on my incision site-- just the steri-strips. They said it would be ok to get them wet, gently, in the shower. Just not to do anything to them. I know I probably waited another week before taking an actual shower. So when I did take a shower, we patted that area dry very gently. I'm sure the soap just rinsed itself off. We were using the handheld shower head, and it has a very gentle flow of water.

Good luck! Don't worry too much-- you'll do fine and look ok too. :)

05-02-2008, 09:50 AM
I was able to shower 10 days after surgery I kept it back in a pontail until I was able to wash it. I washed myself at the bathroom sink until I was able to take a shower. I had my hair highlighted 5 months post op, I probably would have had it highlighted sooner but I wasn't up to because I had too much pain and stiffness from a undetected staph infection from the surgery. Most likely 3 months post op or so you'll lose alot of hair. I had so much hair fall out I was afraid I was going to be bald, but I wasn't, it thinned out alot, it's mostly all grown back now and I am 1 yr & 3 months post op, my hair is long so took a while for the new growing hair to catch up with the rest.


Chihuahua Mama
05-02-2008, 10:55 AM
this is such a great thread, thanks for asking the question - I am wondering how long it will be before I can raise my hands above my head to fix my hair at all...I blow dry my hair then use a flat iron. I think I may have to deal with my hair being alll curly for a while but I sure want to be able to dry it and flat iron it as soon as I can.

05-02-2008, 11:06 AM
I could lift my arms, but they were so weak and tired so easily. I was wearing a brace and needed to put on t-shirts under it... and know I could do that really pretty soon-- like back in the hospital after awhile. You'll have to pick and choose what you want to expend your energy on. And maybe you won't tire as easily as I did. I think it also depends on how high you are fused-- but mine was fairly high-- from T2-L4. Good luck with the hair! :)

05-02-2008, 11:44 AM
From what I understand, people with thoracic fusions have a harder time lifting their arms to wash their hair than people with lumbar fusions. I was able to shampoo my own hair by the time I got home from rehab (20 days post-op), but I had to sit down in the shower and my husband had to supervise me for a few months (mostly because of my weak leg). I used the hand-held spray to avoid having water beat down on my sensitive scars. I was able to quickly blow-dry my hair even in rehab, as I recall, although it was exhausting (beauty is always worth the extra effort :cool: ).

Chihuahua Mama
05-02-2008, 11:46 AM
I'll be fused T10 to sacrum so (hopefully) from T9 up I'll be semi normal :rolleyes:

My back is so painful now, I have to sit to do makeup and hair anyway, so that probably won't change after I get home.

Chihuahua Mama
05-02-2008, 11:53 AM
Thanks Chris - I am always interested in what you have to say since my fusion will be similar to yours. The hair thing has really been bugging me! I've already bought the hand-held and installed it in the shower. So yeah, the beauty thing is always worth the effort! gotta plan ahead :p

05-02-2008, 12:18 PM
Check out: www.sageproducts.com or www.comfortbath.com

I was in the hospital for 12 days. This was great for a first wash. It is a shower cap that the nurses can throw into the microwave and you then put it on your head and massage gently. It is a wet shampoo, no need to rinse, just towel dry. It smelled very nice and did a pretty good job. The cap is called the Comfort Personal Cleaning Shampoo Cap. Our hospitals supply them but if in other parts of the world they may not but I imagine you could buy one online.

I was able to wash my own hair in the shower as soon as the dressings came off on day 14. I was told I didn't have to worry about the shampoo just make sure to rinse well.

Good luck, we all get through it a day at a time.

loves to skate
05-02-2008, 02:16 PM
Hi Ginger and all those worried about washing their hair after surgery. I had my hair cut real short before the surgery and stopped coloring my hair about 4 or 5 months before surgery as I knew I wouldn't be able to color it for awhile after surgery. My hair didn't get washed the 5 days I was in the hospital, but after 5 days, I when to a rehab hospital. In the beginning they gave me a dry shampoo which is actually a liquid and you just massage it all over your scalp and then dry it with a towel. I was suprised at how well it worked and my hair is fairly oily. A few days later when the physical therapist got me up to shower, she covered my incisions with plastic sheets and gave me a bunch of them when I went home since I was told not to get the scabs wet. I had scabs on my abdomen for at least a month after the anterior surgery. The sheets had a strip of adhesive on one side and were big enough to drape over the top and sides of the incision. Showering and shampooing then was no problem. I turns out I like my gray hair but while in the hospital when I saw this gray haired woman in the mirror, I barely recognized myself. Maybe that was the effect of the drugs. Good luck ladies, my thoughts are with you.

05-02-2008, 02:38 PM
I didn't really care how I looked for a good 6 weeks after surgery (really, until I had to go back to work). I couldn't reach my arms above my head to do my own ponytail so my boyfriend learned how to pull back my hair. I was able to do my own ponytail around 3-4 weeks.

I washed the ends of my hair for the first few weeks when I couldn't reach the crown of my head. Slowly though, I was able to wash more and more of it.

Also, I have curly hair, and pre-surgery I did my hair by flipping my head over. Clearly that was not an option for awhile, so I had to learn to do my hair another way (I returned to flipping my head about a month ago!).

I got my hair cut/colored at the salon at about 6-8weeks post op. I brought a pillow with me, and we made it work.

You'll figure out what works for you, and also will probably realize that not washing your hair as often/thoroughly as you'd like is not as important as you once thought!

05-02-2008, 07:17 PM
Hi Ginger,

I would say what you do to your hair before surgery depends on what type of hair you have. I have long, fairly straight hair with highlights. I got my hair done right before surgery. I didn't need to go in for almost 2 months. My hair doesn't tangle very easy so I didn't bother to do a braid or ponytail. (I get headaches if they are in too long.) I though I would need a shampoo while in the hosp. so I bought a plastic head drape that Velcro's around your head like you would wear a headband and drains into the sink. You would sit normally, in a chair, with your back to the sink. The drape is long enough to reach in the sink. I never needed it though. I was allowed to shower the day after I got home, day 9. My hair wasn't itchy and not very dirty like it has been when I was sick (A fever is tough on your hair!) and didn't shower for a bit. I guess my system was in shock and shut down the oil glands. I only had steri-strips on, not a dressing. Showering was o.k. I was told as long as the stream of water wasn't directly on my back. I did take and use facial cleansing cloths to freshen up all over, they work great.

As for those of you wondering about reaching up to do your hair it absolutely depends on how high your fusion is. It seems around T4-5 area is where it gets tougher to lift arms. Not impossible just tiring like Susie*bee said. Chihuahua mama, you should be fine. I am T10 to L4 and had no problem.

Ginger W.
05-03-2008, 12:29 AM
Dear Everyone,

These comments have been incredibly helpful. I just ordered the shampoo cap that you toss in the microwave from drugstore.com. I also got the "Comfort Cape" described by Suzy, that allows you to sit up normally. You can get one of those at http://www.comfort-cape.com.

Since my fusions will start at T4, I'm figuring that I'll be among the group that struggles with getting my arms above my head and blow drying or curling my hair. In this situation, a husband would come in handy. Sigh. Unfortunately, my dog doesn't have such skills, but she loves me A LOT! :)

05-03-2008, 11:05 PM
In response to your question about my broken rod: it was caused because my back didn't fuse in a couple spots. I've talked to two different surgeons about it and they both said that it was nothing I did...it just happens sometimes.

One of the surgeons did mention that adults don't seem to fuse donor bone (allograft I think is what it's called) unless mixed with BMP. I was 17 when I had my first surgery and allograft was used. He said that my age was borderline and that possibly might be a reason why it didn't work so well. This time they will be using bone that they take from my hip so hopefully that will work better.

Something like my case doesn't happen all that often, so I wouldn't worry too much...if that's possible for a mother to do :) broken rods have been discussed on the forum before...you can search for a thread called "what causes broken rods" It might answer some more of your questions.

It's a good thing your daughter is listening to everything the doctor told her to do (or not do)...that can get very frustrating after awhile. I'm glad she seems to be doing well so far. I hope she continues to have an easy and speedy recovery!!

05-04-2008, 09:36 AM
Thanks for that. I'll look for the thread.

Best regards,

05-04-2008, 07:48 PM
I was really worried about my hair going into the hospital, I am very picky. After surgery, I did not care one bit like I thought I would. First, I high light my hair and I did that like two weeks before surgery. It is about time that I do it again. My surgery was on Tuesday and my doctor allowed me to take a shower Sat. because I asked. It was very hard, basically, I just stood in the shower and stuck my head under the water and my husband washed it for me, then my mother in law combed out my hair. My surgery site was covered with bandages and after I showered, a nurse came in and put dry bandages on. I did not attempt another shower for about two more days after that. My bandages came off about 3 or 4 days after I went home from the hospital and my doctor said it was ok to wash my hair, shampoo would not hurt anything, and it didn't. I did not start drying my hair until 4 to 5 weeks post op, I probably could have before that but I just didn't feel like it. I let my hair dry on it's own or I pulled it up. I was mainly in the house anyway so not many people saw how I looked. Once I started drying my hair, I started using my flat iron to straighten my hair. Hope this helps !

05-05-2008, 10:35 PM
I cut my hair pretty short before my first surgery. It worked out great!!! It was very hard and tiring to wash my hair because it hurt so much to raise my arms. This way it only took about a minute of actually washing and only about 10 minutes of drying time. Now since my last surgery last May, I have let my hair grow out again to about shoulder length. At times when it's a bad day I think about how easy and quick it was to do when it was short. I colored it right before my surgeries and by time I actually went anywhere, besides the living room, it was well healed over. The waterless shampoo made my hair worse.

05-07-2008, 03:24 AM
Chi Mama,

I had several people tell me I'd not be able to lift my arms, and that didn't prove out in my case. I was able to lift my arms the day of surgery - as soon as I was awake.

The first few times washing/drying/ironing my hair at home solo (I came home the morning of day 6 - and recovered on my own) left me ~white~ and worn out. By week 2-3, I could accomplish it without feeling I needed a nap. Or an all night recovery.

(BTW, my hair is mid back - about shoulder blade - length. It's THICK ... takes *forever* to dry!)


this is such a great thread, thanks for asking the question - I am wondering how long it will be before I can raise my hands above my head to fix my hair at all...I blow dry my hair then use a flat iron. I think I may have to deal with my hair being alll curly for a while but I sure want to be able to dry it and flat iron it as soon as I can.

Chihuahua Mama
05-07-2008, 10:52 AM
That's good to know - my hair too takes forever...until (ta da) I bought the best hairdryer I've EVER used, the T3 Feather weight. It's pricey, but hey, as the commercial goes, I'm worth it.

Literally it weighs nothing, easy on the arms and cuts the drying time in half for my thick, curly hair. That, and a flat iron...I'm good to go!

We of the thick hair do need to share secrets! ;)

05-07-2008, 11:58 AM
Just so happens my blow dryer recently passed after a long, happy life (okay ... so maybe it was a short, abused life!) ... and I need a new one.

I'm all OVER anything that cuts drying time! Can you find it at ULTA, Sally ... where? Let me know, and my view on "pricey" is relative: Some things are worth the extra cost - especially considering I go through about 6 blow dryers a year because they have to run so long at each sitting!

One thing I did do before surgery was have my hair underlayers razored ... it helped reduce the volume tremendously (and the drying time). I already knew before surgery I wouldn't lose a bit of hair after anesthesia (actually very common, but I never do), so I couldn't count on that to reduce the mop.

A lazy trick I learned was to stick my monstrous 220v A/C window unit on high fan and plop my butt in a chair with both vents aimed at my head - LOL. While most Houstonians have central air, my lil' bungalow - and many of the houses in this old neighborhood outside Downtown - was constructed ca. 1920 ... and never updated to central.

The unexpected bonus of this was it gave my hair a break from the heat of blow drying. I still use this method a few times a week, and my hair's in much better condition!

Now, hair color ...

Mine usually runs the gamut of "reds not found in nature". (it's naturally about 1/2 dark brown, 1/2 grey ... and has been since I was 19)

Anyone who dyes their hair any shocking red is familiar with the pink spots (no matter HOW well you shampoo afterwards) this junk leaves on your pillows the first few days. My hair grows pretty quickly - and red fades pretty quickly. All this factored into my decision on how soon before surgery to color.

If I'd waited until the last minute, I would have trashed the hospital pillowcases (my bill currently stands at $250,000 ... I can't even believe I found THAT a concern - LMAO!), and too far prior to surgery, I'd have roots at 2 weeks post-op.

I ended up doing it 3 days before surgery and had roots 3 weeks after surgery. This was the least of my concern at that point (I just wore a lot of ball caps ;-).

A few days after my stitches were removed (about 3 weeks post-op) I colored it (I've always done it myself).

My situation (coloring because of all the grey) probably isn't the norm. If I did it just for color enhancement, highlights/lowlights most definitely would have been the most forgiving option.


Chihuahua Mama
05-07-2008, 12:21 PM
Oh, it makes me so happy to share this info - everyone who has used this dryer just doesn't want to return to Conair!!

There are two version of the T3, one is "Evolution" (a bit heavier, but still light) and the "Featherweight". The evolution has a cool shot button, so you can turn your AC to the bigger duty of cooling your house, and I think the Featherweight does as well, but not sure.

I bought my daughter a Featherweight on Amazon for a great price. Sephora has it as well as Nordstrom and QVC. I'm not aware of any other place that sells them, other than Amazon.

You can go to any of those websites and search "T3" and you should find it.

Here's what Amazon is currently selling it:


The alternative would be say...Sally's and look for a "Tourmaline" hairdryer, but I can't say enough about this dryer for challenged hair.

Happy shopping!

05-07-2008, 12:50 PM
Oh, it makes me so happy to share this info ...

Okay ... I snorted out loud. Sometimes it just really IS the little things in life, huh? You sound like me preaching on memory foam now! ;-) I'm about to go order one of these babies (I'm counting on you, my thick-haired sister!).

And, yeah ... I suppose my a/c *does* have a larger purpose, however, there IS another bonus using it as a hair dryer: A bane of life in Houston (and 100% humidity most days) is you take a bath and break a sweat by the time you get dried and dressed!


05-25-2008, 07:47 PM
well... i have no advice, but i just want to let all of you know that i am praying for you guys since surgery is a pretty scary thing AND that i also feel sry for you that you can't wash your hair after surgery! i, myself, am COMPLETELY OBSESSED with my hair! thoughts and prayers, ~*val*~

05-26-2008, 09:57 AM
Since I'm 46 and get my hair colored regulary to cover the GRAY, I just spoke to my hairdresser the other day, and after I'm home, she will come to my house to color/cut my hair. :D

I know it sounds stupid, but that has really helped. The last thing I want to look like is an old gray hag, or have to get my hubby to color my hair from a drugstore box haircolor.

05-26-2008, 01:41 PM
I got my hair colored and cut pretty short just before my surgery. I was glad I did because the little hair shampooing cap would not be effective on longer hair. Mine is really thick. I didn't feel like fooling with it much anyway for a couple of weeks... couldn't have cared less, to be honest. So for the sake of those around me.... lol.. i kept it very simple and easy. By the time i felt more like myself, it had grown to a length that i could use a curling iron and make it look decent.

05-26-2008, 01:51 PM
... As for those of you wondering about reaching up to do your hair it absolutely depends on how high your fusion is. It seems around T4-5 area is where it gets tougher to lift arms. ...

My fusion starts at T4, and from talking to others with similar fusions pre-op, I was totally prepared for difficulty lifting my arms.

Surprisingly, it wasn't an issue at *all* ... I could put them completely straight over my head the day I had surgery - and could easily put in a ponytail when I got home.

Just another thing that varies from person to person!


05-26-2008, 10:27 PM
I had 2 wait ten days

05-28-2008, 02:53 PM
My very thick, and curly, hair came below my chin. I had decided to not have it cut shorter pre-surgery because I like being able to pull it into a ponytail or pigtails. Morning of surgery, I did pigtails using scrunchies, and figured that that would keep my hair from tangling & getting too dirty.

When I finally was awake and able to figure out what's what (which in my situation was 6 days post-op because I had pneumonia and was sedated and kept in ICU), and someone removed the "shower cap" thing they had put on me going in to surgery, I was horrified to find that there was just 1 scrunchie sort of resting against (not holding) my matted hair, and a rubber band that had been placed around a bunch of my hair. It was a bitch to remove the rubber band and to untangle the rat's nest that had developed.

Thankfully there is a travelling hair stylist who stops by at HSS and for $40 washed my hair while I was lying in bed. I think this was about Day 10. It was the best $40 I've ever spent. He used a wash basin and held my head over it - didn't get a drop of water on me!! Thanks BSprings for telling me about him.

Although the Dr's at NYU rehab had ordered assisted showers (so I could wash my own hair), the nurse's aides refused to let me take a shower for at least 5 or 6 days (too much effort for them to assist me?).

Looking forward to going home, I learned that the visiting home health aid had orders just to give me sponge baths, at the bathroom sink. We did 1 shampoo with me leaning over the sink, after which I decided to get my hair cut short. A visiting haircut person took off about 2/3 of the length, which made it a breeze to shampoo & untangle.

Finally, at 5 months post-op, I am having my hair done this week at the salon; I will try to get it cut into some kind of shape and get re-blonded!

My advice: if your hair is thick, get it cut short pre-surgery. You won't care what it looks like, but you will be able to enjoy having clean hair.