Patients who are contemplating back surgery ask a lot of questions. Though many of them are about the surgery itself (and what they should do to prepare themselves), there are even more questions about what the operation will mean for their future. How soon can I go back to work? Will my pain go away? Will I be able to exercise and return to an active lifestyle once I’ve recovered?
Though it is important that you allow your body the chance to rest following any kind of operation, it is equally important that you get yourself moving again as soon as your physician gives you the green light. Exercise and movement, when done properly, can go a long way towards ensuring the success of your surgery and protecting yourself against future injury and pain. The first step is generally to see a physical therapist, who will work under the direction of your surgeon to ensure that your post-operative pain is well managed and that you are aware of the steps you can take to promote your own healing.
After the initial recovery phase has been completed, your physical therapist will create a special program for you to retrain your muscles and ensure that you have the stability that you need. Patients may feel good, but be unaware of weaknesses in the muscles underlying the incision, as well as those that may have lost strength as a result of previous immobility or lack of exercise. The goal is to restore strength, flexibility, and stability so that you can move on to higher and more advanced levels of activity.
As much as you want to get back to normal after your surgery, it is important that you take it slowly and make sure that you are properly healed. There are generally several steps to the healing process, starting with the incision itself, and then moving on to the muscles and tissues underneath. The recovery that takes the longest is the bones, which can take as long as six to nine months. Until your physician says you are free to proceed, make sure that you don’t engage in heavy lifting, bending or twisting, and use caution.
Your first true exercises should be the ones that have the lowest level of impact. Even yoga involves a fair amount of twisting and extension of the spine, so it is a good idea to avoid it for awhile. Instead, stick to walking or swimming. Both can give you a total body workout in a safe way.
One thing that you will need to be aware of is that you may have increased stiffness after your operation. Stretching exercises can help to get past this challenge. Though every case is different, it is completely reasonable to expect that you will be able to resume your normal activities – and maybe even take on new ones – after your recovery is complete.