There are many reasons people undergo spinal surgery. Whether spine surgery was due to an acute injury, a structural anomaly, or a chronic issue, physical therapy is an integral component of the rehabilitation process. Often physical therapy begins immediately after the surgical procedure. Other times, physical therapy isn’t started until several days or weeks following the surgery. When exactly physical therapy begins is determined by the spine surgeon and is based on numerous factors including: time needed for healing, physical condition prior to surgery and the type of spinal surgery performed. Physical therapy plays a crucial role in the process of getting you back to doing your daily routine, including completing activities of daily living, and work related tasks.
Initially, the physical therapist will focus on pain control and patient education. The goal is to educate the patient on spinal care including positions to avoid. Also, will focus on teaching proper, more efficient ways to transfer in and out of a bed, chair, and car. Education on proper posture and movement patterns is crucial to minimize harmful positions. It’s important to incorporate positions that minimize spinal compression and allow for adequate healing. Various means of pain control that are utilized in physical therapy include: ice and different modalities such as electric stimulation. This can help with healing, improving tissue mobility, and the reduction of inflammation and pain.
Next, the physical therapist will work on exercises focusing on improving flexibility, proper body mechanics, and building up strength, power, endurance and stability in and around the spinal region. Various exercises will be instructed. The physical therapist has knowledge and skills to know what muscles need to be addressed. Also, the patient will be provided a customized home exercise program that reinforces the physical therapy provided.
As the patient continues physical therapy, exercise intensity will be increased with a goal of functional independence. Eventually, the patient will be discharged from physical therapy and advised to continue performing the home exercise program to further improve.
While the spinal surgery addresses the structural damage done, the goal in physical therapy is to learn or relearn how to move in order to prevent further injury to the area involved, or other areas of the spine.