Lumbar Fusion Is Just The Beginning

After months of failed treatment, lumbar fusion surgery looks like the best option. This scenario is a reality for thousands of back pain sufferers in America. Lumbar fusions are now quicker, safer, and more effective than in the past. However, fusion is just the starting point. Exercise in the form of physical therapy is vital for a healthier back. Only with consistent training in the 1-3 months can a patient have a healthier, more manageable back.

The advantages of exercise after spine surgery

Physical therapy is the process of using exercises to improve strength and range of motion. A fusion means a loss of flexibility since each vertebra depends on the other for movement. Physical therapy helps the surrounding muscles to compensate. However, once physical therapy is over, continuous exercise could make a huge difference. Exercise is also for the future. With one fewer disc, the force and pressure on the surrounding discs increases. Exercise relieves the pressure and prevents the need for future fusions. As little as 30 minutes can create a fantastic quality of life.

Follow these dos and don’ts

Physical therapy helps within the first 3 months. Afterward, the patient will be expected to keep up an exercise regimen. Exercise is vital but doing the wrong exercises is worse than not exercising at all. For starters, do not start new exercises without first consulting a physical therapist or doctor. Avoid heavy weights and perform activities that adopt a neutral position. A fusion means the spine will not be able to flex like before, so avoid exercises like crunches that can round the spine. Most of all, be careful and start slowly, working up to higher intensity exercises. Try the following activities, which are best after spine surgery.

Simple exercises during physical therapy

The first 3 months post-surgery will consist of simple exercises to regain mobility and strength. These exercises will require minimal movement and include toe flexes, ankle rotations, and leg raises. As the weeks go on, standing exercises will help fire the muscles in the lower back and legs. As time goes on, simple activities, like sitting on a medicine ball, can help with balance and core strength.

Getting to the core

Core exercises are vital for a healthy spine. The core muscles wrap around the lower spine and preserve the integrity of the fusion. Add core exercises 2-3 times per week in an exercise program. These core exercises should maintain a straight or neutral spine, especially within the first year of surgery. Planks and side planks are excellent core exercises. An alternating arm and leg raise while in the plank position is another excellent exercise.

Consider low-impact cardio

As part of an exercise routine, build the body’s endurance through low-impact cardio. Start with a gentle walk or light ride on a stationary bike. The exercise must be low-impact and low-intensity. As time goes on, swimming and water aerobics are excellent options. The water removes the impact and pressure while strengthening the legs, core, and back muscles.

Don’t skip the basics

Before and after exercise, make sure to warm up, stretch, and cool down accordingly. These simple steps can prevent injury. Furthermore, warming up and stretching encourages blood flow. Cooling down prevents damage to the spine and aids in recovery.

Exercise is the antidote

Physical therapy and exercise are critical to the success of a lumbar fusion. However, both must be gradual and consider the fusion surgery. Try exercises that strengthen the core, legs, and back. Make sure not to flex or overextend the back. More importantly, avoid heavy weights or high-intensity training unless advised by a doctor. In time, not only will there be less pain, but an improved quality of life as well.