If you or a loved one has recently found themselves in the difficult situation of recovering from major spine surgery, you need to know some of the best ways to get back on your feet. Your doctor will likely advise that you do some walking and light stretching, but you may need help understanding the particulars.
Here are some tips on how to walk and stretch effectively after major spine surgeries:
- Pace yourself. Instead of pushing yourself too hard, take smaller steps at first and gradually work your way up to longer strides.
- Don’t forget your arms! Hold on with one hand while walking for balance, or use a cane or other grip if needed; try using weights if available for strengthening exercises.
- Look ahead! Not only will it help with balance, but also it will prevent any unexpected falls that could happen.
- It is okay to need help! Find someone who can be your walking partner or an exercise buddy to help motivate you. Exercise buddies are very beneficial because they keep you accountable for maintaining the exercises.
- Consider joining a class! There are numerous free classes offered at most gyms; most hospitals provide group exercise classes for patients (starting shortly after discharge). Once you become more mobile, start adding in some strength-improving exercises like pushups or squats.
Make sure to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. Be safe and follow through with what your doctor says after their surgery.
What are some major spine surgeries?
There are many major spine surgeries, but the most common are:
- Flexible spinal fusion surgery: This surgery joins the vertebrae with rods and screws, or sometimes by fusing them like a bone. This surgery may also include removing any bulging discs or other issues in the spine.
- Spinal decompression: Spinal decompression is performed to help relieve pressure on the spine by removing excess material from soft tissue between the vertebrae.
- Microdiscectomy: This surgery is performed to remove a herniated disc by cutting out the damaged parts of the disc.
- Laminectomy, interbody fusion (ILIF): This type of procedure improves spinal stability by reinforcing the spine with bone grafts, rods, bone graft substitutes, etc.
- Lumbar discectomy: In this surgery, the doctor removes the herniated disc from the spine.
- Spinal fusion: In this surgery, the doctor joins vertebrae together using bone grafts, rods, etc.
Recovery periods according to surgery type
If you have recently gone through a major spine surgery, be sure to ask your doctor for a timeline of when you can expect to be released from their facility. They will probably give you some physical therapy recommendations, but here are some general guidelines for some common surgeries:
Flexible spinal fusion surgery
After flexible spinal fusion surgery, the doctor may recommend that you do light walking or even light jogging. You will probably be able to walk independently after 2-3 weeks, but if you notice any leg weakness or spasms after getting up, you should ask someone for help.
After lumbar discectomy surgery, it is best to avoid putting too much pressure on the back. The doctor will likely recommend that you do some walking until they are ready to move to physical therapy. Check with your doctor for specifics for this surgery type.
Laminectomy, interbody fusion (ILIF)
After this type of surgery, you will probably be able to walk within 2-3 weeks after your surgery. You may even be able to walk on your own around the house without too much pain; however, the doctor may want you to avoid walking outside for a few months after the initial recovery period. Check with your doctor for more specifics on how long it is recommended that you wait before doing things like gardening, running errands, etc.
After surgeons perform this surgery, the legs will likely be weak for 2-3 weeks due to lack of use. You can still walk around, but it is suggested that you not put too much pressure on your legs, so they do not tear more.
Standard healthy active living rules
After significant spine surgeries, you should follow some healthy active living rules to stay safe and maintain your progress.
- Make sure to not push yourself too hard in the beginning, and start slow until you are ready to move on to the next step.
- Always check with your doctor before starting any exercises or other physical activities. Your doctor will have guidelines set in place for when you can start doing things like running, jogging, etc.
- If you are feeling pain, stop exercising. Ask your doctor about rest days; if pain continues, try alternative medicine like Tylenol or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs).
- Check with your doctor about any pain medication before starting any exercises or other physical activities.
How to maintain your progress
You will likely be walking without walking poles by the time you make it home after surgery, but it is essential to be aware of any falls that may occur. Be sure to saturate any wounds with saline (saltwater) available at your hospital or discharge center. These wounds are likely to become very sore, so keep this in mind!
- If you are taking pain medication, make sure to always check with your doctor about stopping them for any important exercises or physical activities.
- For the first 3-4 months after surgery, you should also avoid sudden movements like turning quickly or jumping.
- It is also recommended that you avoid holding heavy objects after major spine surgeries.
- If you are experiencing pain, try to take care of it immediately. If you are unsure of how to do this, ask your caregiver for help!
- As mentioned before, it is recommended that you look ahead while walking.
Following these steps and following the guidelines for your level of care will help you get through major spinal surgeries and regain a level of normalcy.
Major spinal surgeries can be challenging, but most people bounce back from the significant important solid and live everyday life. Once you resume your active lifestyle after major spine surgeries, be sure to add in some basic exercises. Keep your body fit so you will be ready for what lies ahead. Be safe, and best of luck!