Regain Flexibility and Strength after Back Surgery

January 2, 2014

Physical Therapy Back Surgery


Physical therapy (PT) is necessary for a patient to fully recover from surgeries related to the spine and neck, according to physical therapist Frank Zalesny. Zalesny also states that many times physical therapy is the most important aspect of recovery and that any patient who expects to return to normal activity must actively participate in physical therapy.

Why PT is Essential

  • Your physical therapist does more than help you exercise, he or she educates you on which exercises are best for your recovery.
  • The exercises you do target the areas necessary to increase strength, decrease your pain and improve your flexibility.
  • If you do not improve your strength and flexibility directly following surgery, you risk re-injuring yourself.

When working with a physical therapist, you will have a program tailored specifically to your individual situation, but here is a typical idea of what to expect:

The Day After Surgery

With assistance from a physical therapist, you will likely begin walking.

1-Week Post-surgery

You will probably be asked to walk twice a day. These should be slow, short walks to start. You can slowly increase your time until you are walking 30 minutes each session.

The more you move around, the better. However, you need to avoid crawling, twisting, bending, stooping, kneeling, pulling, pushing and lifting anything that weighs more than eight pounds. To put this into perspective, according to the Alabama Dairy Producers, one gallon of milk weighs 8.6 pounds.

2-6 Weeks Post-surgery

You will most likely begin increasing your walking speed. Do not power walk, you are just trying to maintain your baseline muscle tone and increase your circulation.

Continue to avoid actions listed above. Do not lift anything that weighs more than 10 pounds.

6-12 Weeks Post-surgery

At this point, you may be asked to increase your walking speed and distance. You can walk up to two miles a day. Increase your pace to the point that you feel a bit winded.

If necessary, on rare occasions you may stoop, kneel, crawl, bend and lift. You should not lift anything heavier than 15 pounds. If you still have a back brace, continue to wear it as directed. You also may begin doing specific exercises at this point. You can watch videos that demonstrate the proper way to perform many spine exercises and stretches at sites like Laser Spine Institute.

3 Months Post-surgery

Once you finish your professional PT, you are most likely ready to continue exercising at home. To avoid injuring yourself, follow the program that your physical therapist taught you. After you exercise for a few months, your spine becomes stronger and you are less likely to re-injure it. Your exercise routine needs to be part of your daily regimen.

Exercises You Can Possibly Perform 3 Months After Surgery

  • Swimming
  • Walking/Jogging – Up to two miles per day
  • Bike riding

6 Months Post-surgery

You can probably begin to play non-collision sports like:

  • Tennis
  • Golf
  • Basketball

Weight lifting restrictions remain with 50 pounds generally being the limit.

One Year Post-surgery

Continue exercising and using good posture. Always lift using your legs to avoid putting pressure on your spine.

Your surgeon usually lifts the restrictions at this point. If your back’s rehabilitation is complete, you can play football, snow ski or weight lift. Just remember to use good judgment.

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