6 things to think about when returning to exercise after spinal surgery
Thinking about when you’ll be able to return to regular exercise after spinal surgery?
First of all, great! Surgery is only part of the picture, and keeping active and strong afterwards will be key in keeping your back pain-free in the long term – but it’s also crucial to approach this sensibly.
While it’s natural to worry you won’t be able to return to full fitness after a minimal access spinal surgery procedure, such as a microdiscectomy or lumbar fusion, this really doesn’t have to be the case – but neither is it advisable to try and rush into things too quickly or ignore the basics, like strengthening your core and building up gradually.
Here are six important points to keep in mind:
1: Let your body heal
The first days and weeks post-surgery are all about healing. Remember, it’s not just your surgery wound that will need to heal, your body will be repairing itself internally too, so it’s vital not to overdo things and ensure you follow any advice you’re given when you leave hospital. Exactly how long this phase lasts will depend on your individual circumstances and procedure, but you’ll usually be advised to avoid things like twisting and heavy lifting, and gradually regain mobility and strength with daily walks.
2: Don’t rush your rehab
Once you’ve recovered from your surgery, you should be experiencing a reduction in pain levels, which gradually should improve further over time – but this doesn’t mean you no longer need to think about ‘managing’ your back. Keeping your core strong is one of the single most important things for preventing future problems, so embrace your rehab. This usually starts with simple physiotherapy and Pilates-based exercises, to gradually strengthen your pelvic floor and core muscles and address any imbalances or ‘weak areas’ you may have developed as a result of your back pain/injury.
Yes, these exercises can seem a bit boring and basic but they really are important, as these will form the foundation of your future fitness.
3: Work with a specialist who understands your history
Doing your rehab under expert guidance can make a world of difference. A specialist physiotherapist will have in-depth understanding of particular exercises that could help you, as well as things you might be best avoiding.
Pilates can be really useful for core strengthening, but rather than attending a regular group class, it’s a good idea to opt for a specially-tailored programme with specialist instructors, who’ll be able to keep a close eye on your technique and progress. As you get stronger and start increasing your fitness activities, a rehab trainer with specialist experience of back problems will be able to advise on how to progress with your fitness regime in the most beneficial and risk-free way.
Tip: The London Back Pain Clinic offers a range of rehab programmes for spinal conditions, including specialist physiotherapies such as musculoskeletal physiotherapy, neuro physiotherapy and Pilates.
4: Slow and steady wins the race
Once you’re feeling fitter again, it’s tempting to start pushing yourself – but patience really is vital. Ultimately, it’s about being as active and pain-free as possible for the rest of your life, so keep the bigger picture in mind and think of it as a marathon, not a sprint.
5: Listen to your body
Similarly, really tuning in to what your body is telling you is going to be crucial in your fitness journey. Any niggles, get them checked, and embrace those all-important rest days too – they’re going to help you stay strong in the long run.
6: Be positive – but be prepared to adapt too
Having spinal surgery doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have to give up fitness goals forever more. In fact, having a positive outlook about exercise is generally a really good thing – but you might need to adapt your approach. This might mean avoiding too much high-impact exercise, and incorporating more cross-training to keep strong and avoid aggravation. Make feeling strong and healthy your focus, rather than chasing ‘Personal Bests’, and hopefully you’ll find a balance that’s both rewarding and back-friendly.
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