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How long after back surgery can you start physical therapy?

We get it, you don’t want to be stuck in bed feeling useless. We don’t want that either. This article is for you if you’re planning to undergo back surgery or just had one. Keep reading to understand when you can start physiotherapy to get back on your feet and have all your questions answers about post-surgery physiotherapy timeline.

Understanding Back Surgery Recovery Stages

Physical therapy after back surgery requires a careful and progressive approach to healing.

Your recovery is unique to you, and so should be the steps to get you back to autonomy. Understanding these stages helps set realistic expectations for rehabilitation.

The timing for starting physical therapy varies depending on many factors. Early intervention can help significantly enhance the recovery process by helping you get a head start on regaining mobility:

●     Immediate Recovery (Days 0-3)

The initial post-surgery period builds the foundation for your rehabilitation. At this time, you should focus on rest, pain management, and simple movements such as changing positions in bed. This stage is crucial to avoid complications like blood clots and prevent stiffness.

●     Early Recovery (Weeks 1-4)

After the immediate recovery phase, you can begin gentle exercises. Even walking short distances can stimulate circulation and muscle activity. Low-intensity activities can help set the stage for more extensive physical therapy.

●     Mid-Term Recovery (Weeks 4-12)

Generally, most patients are ready to engage in more structured physical therapy sessions by week 4. These sessions focus on improving your flexibility and building strength. This is when you’ll see significant improvements in your mobility and daily function.

●     Long-Term Recovery (12+ weeks)

The long-term recovery phase is about preparing for your return to normal life, sports, and job-related activities. The goal is to ensure you can perform these activities safely, effectively and without pain.

There’s no set time for how long this stage lasts because everyone has different goals and achievements.

In each stage, the collaboration between you and your physical therapist is essential. It allows us to adjust your treatment plan according to your recovery pace and address any lingering issues.

When does Physical Therapy Typically Begin After Back Surgery?

Your journey to recovery starts immediately after surgery. Even simple movements like ankle pumps and wrist circles can make a difference during the initial days.

Your doctor will recommend the right time to begin physiotherapy exercises. Typically, that’s within 1-4 weeks, depending on the surgery type, age and previous fitness level.

We strongly recommend adhering to the surgeon’s guidelines. Your bones/joints may need time to settle into new positions and scars may require healing to prevent infection. You might also need a brace or immobiliser to protect the back during this vulnerable period.

Starting too soon or moving incorrectly could jeopardise your recovery. Make sure to listen to the back surgery rehab professionals during every stage.

Before you start physiotherapy after back surgery, your therapist will evaluate your current condition. We’ll assess your pain levels, flexibility, strength, and range of motion to create a progressive exercise regimen. This may involve stretches, strengthening activities, or core stabilisation techniques.

At Clearcut Physiotherapy, our physiotherapists help you pace your recovery and build back your strength safely without risking injury.

Types of Physical Therapy After Back Surgery

Not all post-surgery physiotherapy is the same. That’s why it’s important to find the right exercises for your specific stage of recovery:

1.   Gentle Mobility Exercises (Weeks 1-4): 

Why they’re important: Gentle stretches help relax muscles and promote mobility without aggravating the surgical site. 

Examples: Pelvic tilts, knee-to-chest stretches, and short daily walks. These activities encourage blood circulation and help prevent stiffness.

2.   Strengthening Exercises (Weeks 4-12): 

Why they’re important: Strengthening exercises gradually rebuild muscle strength to stabilise the spine. The emphasis here should be on gradual progress and personalised routines. 

Examples: Partial squats, resistance band exercises, and leg raises. Including these in your physiotherapy after back surgery will help strengthen your core muscles and support your spine.

3.   Advanced Core and Balance Training (After 12 Weeks):

Why they’re important: Core and balance training improves strength and coordination. Back surgery rehab is essential for providing better support for your back. 

Examples: Bridge exercises, standing on one leg, and yoga.

Our experts are trained to create progressive rehabilitation plans that evolve with your needs. Make sure you on-board a physiotherapist experienced in physiotherapy after back surgery.

Our senior physiotherapists have worked in acute hospital settings, outpatient clinics and home settings with post-surgery clients, so we have the exact experience to help you recover better.

Image Alt Text	Patient testimonial for rehab at Clearcut Physiotherapy in London.

Benefits of Starting Physical Therapy at the Right Time after Back Surgery

When it comes to recovering from back surgery, timing is everything. Starting physiotherapy at the appropriate moment will influence how quickly and effectively you recover.

Your body requires the right balance of movement and rest to heal optimally. Working with a physiotherapist to determine the best schedule is vital. Here are the key benefits you can expect from starting physical therapy at the right time:

  • Prevents scarring: Movement keeps the area mobile while reducing the chances of long-term complications. Gently moving your body helps reduce scar tissue buildup around your surgical site. Interested to learn more about how physiotherapy can minimise scarring? Explore our in-depth guide: Physiotherapy for Scars.
  • Reduces pain: Targeted exercises ease post-operative pain by promoting blood circulation. Post-surgery physiotherapy also reduces inflammation and naturally relaxes muscles. Exercising releases endorphins which act as natural painkillers.
  • Restores mobility and strength: Improving flexibility and movement equals more confidence in daily activities. Tailored physical therapy helps you transition from short walks to more challenging exercises in a few weeks. After back surgery, a robust PT schedule is also crucial for restoring your core strength and endurance.

Individual Factors Affecting Physical Therapy Start Times

Starting physical therapy after back surgery is never a one-size-fits-all solution. What’s right for you might not work as well for someone else. These are just a few factors that influence the timing of post-back surgery rehab :

  • Surgical procedure type: Each back surgery comes with its own specific set of challenges. A microdiscectomy (removal of a herniated disc) may allow for earlier movement compared to a spinal fusion. Understanding the procedure type may help set realistic expectations for your physiotherapy after-back surgery timeline.
  • Patient-Specific Variables: No two patients are alike. Age, pre-existing conditions (like osteoporosis or diabetes), and previous fitness levels all impact your recovery timeline. An elderly person with pre-existing health conditions will have a different timeline compared to a younger, physically active individual.
  • Surgeon’s recommendation: Your surgeon’s insight is invaluable as they best understand the intricacies of your specific surgical procedure and overall health. Their advice on when to begin post-surgery physiotherapy reduces the risk of complications while ensuring safe rehabilitation.

Your Next Steps

Patience, perseverance and care are the prerequisites for a full recovery and becoming stronger than before. Starting physical therapy at the right time sets you up for multiple long-term benefits. 

This road might be hard, but the right help can make it easier and less lonely.

Our clinics in Eltham, Battersea, and Norbury offer the guidance you need to find your stride again. Ready to get personalised help and reclaim your life? Book an appointment today and let’s see how we can help you do just that.