Spine surgery might be necessary for many different reasons. Physical injuries of the spinal vertebrae, parts of the spine affected by tumors, osteomyelitis, and spinal nerve compressions can sometimes develop to such an extent that surgery becomes the only option.
The usual types of operation include spinal fusion surgery, discectomy, and laminectomy. During the postoperative period, a person should rest for a variable amount of time, depending on the type and complexity of the procedure. However, after the initial rest period, rehabilitation is necessary in order to establish a proper functioning of the spine and all its structures. Here are some of the most important training plans for persons who underwent spinal surgery.
The best practice is to develop an exercise plan for each patient individually because no two persons have the exact same recovery speed. These exercise plans are made by certified physical therapists and are extremely important for the proper functioning of spinal structures after recovery. The main goal of physical therapy is to increase the strength of the muscles which have been damaged during or before surgery and to establish symmetrical muscle innervation and strength.
Special attention should be given to patients who have decreased mobility of one or more extremities because of muscle weakness caused by spine problems. For them, the exercise plans are designed in order to target specific muscles and stimulate specific spinal nerves, which are now released from compression, but still not fully functional.
Critical Information About Postoperative Exercises
Postoperative exercises are beneficial for the functional recovery, but they can also cause fatal damage to the spine and neural structures, if not performed correctly. Firstly, the intensity of the spine-targeting exercises should increase gradually. Lifting heavier weights or exerting spinal muscles more than it is recommended often causes injuries from which it is very hard to recover, given that there already is an underlying spine disorder.
The most common patient question after spine surgery is when they are going to be able to continue with normal daily activities. The answer to that question highly depends on the type and the extent of the injury. If there are any postoperative complications, this period will surely be prolonged. Therefore, it is very important for these patients not to try any activities that are not recommended by their physical therapist. The importance of this statement has often been underestimated due to the tendency of some patients to attempt to return to work as soon as they start to feel better.
In most cases, the physical therapist will show you the exercises which you can perform at home on your own, except if special tools are needed in which case you would need to visit the physical therapy training room. Make sure to ask anything you are not clear about, because it is of great importance for your recovery. After a successful recovery period, the spinal muscles must be kept in good shape in order to prevent re-injury. That is accomplished by doing regular exercises and perhaps participating in some sports. An activity that is particularly useful and most commonly recommended is swimming, because it symmetrically affects spinal muscles and other back muscles.
- McGregor AH, Probyn K, Cro S, Doré CJ, Burton AK, Balagué F, Pincus T, Fairbank J. Rehabilitation following surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD009644. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009644.pub2.
- Mannion AF, Denzler R, Dvorak J, Müntener M, Grob D. A randomised controlled trial of post-operative rehabilitation after surgical decompression of the lumbar spine. European Spine Journal. 2007. 16(8):1101-1117. doi:10.1007/s00586-007-0399-6.
- Greenwood J, McGregor A, Jones F, Hurley M. Evaluating rehabilitation following lumbar fusion surgery (REFS): study protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Trials. 2015. 16:251. doi:10.1186/s13063-015-0751-9.
- Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth
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