Spine Surgery Rehab

What is it: Spine surgery is a major undertaking, and rehabilitation is an important part of helping patients get the most possible benefit from their surgery. Essentially, rehabilitation (physical therapy, exercise) can help patients recover from spine surgery as quickly and completely as possible.

It can be thought of as alignment and balance for your body. If you buy new tires for your car, they won’t last as long if they are not aligned and balanced and the new tires will be a waste of money. Your spine surgery is like new tires, and a physical therapist’s role is to do the alignment, balance, and engine tuning to make sure that the effects of the surgery are as positive as possible.

Statistics: Nerve damage during a discectomy or a lumbar decompression is very uncommon, but has been reported in about 1 in 1,000 cases.

Pain that is relieved right after surgery but then returns abruptly is often due to a recurrent lumbar disc herniation. Recurrent lumbar disc herniations happen to about 5% to 10% of patients, and they are most likely to occur during the first three months after back surgery. However, for 10-20% of patients, the pain will continue until the nerve starts to heal.

Important Facts: Each type of back surgery comes with its own risks and benefits.

Spinal Fusion. Spinal fusion is the most common surgery for back pain. In a spinal fusion, a surgeon joins spinal bones, called vertebrae, together. This restricts motion between the bones of the spine. Fusion also limits the stretching of nerves.

Laminectomy. In a laminectomy, a surgeon removes parts of the bone, bone spurs, or ligaments in the back. This relieves pressure on spinal nerves that may be causing pain or weakness.

Laminectomy can cause the spine to be less stable. If the spinal bones become unstable, a spinal fusion is usually performed. Spinal fusion may also be performed at the same time as laminectomy.

Treatment Duration: Recovery from a spine surgery is a long process, especially if an open spine surgery is performed. To shorten the spine surgery recovery period, the patient will have to undergo a strict rehabilitation process. The two factors, which will decide the recovery, are ability to heal quickly and strength of the patient. In a bid to recover faster from the surgery, the patient should not push oneself, as it can cause a setback in the recovery process. After undergoing a spine surgery, one must be ready to take ample amount of rest to facilitate faster recovery process.

Do’s/Don’ts: Always follow your doctor or physical therapist’s recommendations for rehabilitation following spinal surgery. Failure to do so may result in injury or loss of mobility. Take your time during exercise movements and follow proper form, as demonstrated by your therapist.

Common Myths: Myth: I’ll never be the same again. Truth: You’ve heard people say that once you have your back operated on, it’s never as good as it used to be. This statement does not accurately represent the overwhelming number of positive outcomes following spine surgery. In fact, most people return to all of their previous activities — pain free — once finished with a full course of rehab.

It is also telling that back surgery is the only category of surgery with a clinical name for failure: failed back surgery syndrome. The most common cause of failed back surgery? Improper patient selection — where the actual source of pain (the area to be operated on) is misdiagnosed.