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Using a Walker After Back Surgery: Why, How Long & Transition

Back surgery can significantly impact mobility and make any activity feel like climbing a mountain. Tasks that were once second nature, like walking to the kitchen or getting up from a chair, may now take immense effort.

Whether you’ve had a discectomy, spinal fusion, or another type of procedure, the initial phase is challenging.

Using a walker during this time can provide support, stabilise your movements and prevent falls. But how long will you need a walker after surgery?

That depends on individual recovery progress and specific surgical procedures. Ultimately, the goal is to regain your independence as safely and quickly as possible.

Typically, patients use a walker for 0-2 weeks, but this timeframe can differ. Let’s unpack why using a walker is important and how it fits into your recovery plan.

Why You Might Need a Walker After Back Surgery

A walker is a crucial part of back surgery physiotherapy. It provides much-needed stability while reducing the strain on your back during the initial healing phase. Your postural muscles, that support you in standing and sitting upright, may be weak after surgery due to disuse or surgical scar.

Using a walker to support your weight may allow the surgical site to heal properly while you stay safe and mobile.

Immediate Post-Surgery Period (0-2 weeks)

Right after surgery, your body needs maximum support due to pain and weakness. A walker helps you navigate this critical period by stabilising your movements. You may need a walker during this stage:

  1. For stability, balance, and preventing falls during the initial recovery phase.
  2. To reduce pain and discomfort by distributing weight more evenly, reducing the strain on the healing surgical site and alleviating pain while standing and walking.
  3. Surgery can lead to temporary muscle weakness, particularly in the legs and core. A walker provides the necessary support to compensate for this weakness, facilitating safer movement.
  4. Post-surgery, you may have restrictions on bending, twisting, and lifting. A walker helps you adhere to these limitations by providing support and reducing the need for movements that could jeopardise the healing process.
  5. For confidence and security because the psychological aspect of recovery is significant. A walker offers a sense of security and confidence, encouraging you to start moving and walking sooner, which is crucial for a successful rehabilitation process.

Here’s a quick guide on using your walker safely: Stand upright, keep your back straight, and evenly distribute your weight between the walker and your legs. Move the walker ahead, step with your weaker leg first, then follow with your stronger leg. 

Early Recovery After Back Surgery (2-6 weeks)

As you progress into early recovery, your strength and mobility will gradually improve. During this time, the walker continues to offer support, but your reliance on it may lessen.

Incorporate short walks without the walker into your daily routine. You can go around your home or in any safe outdoor environment. Maintain good posture and avoid bending or twisting your back unnecessarily or suddenly to prevent additional strain.

You can support your healing process and work towards regaining independence by using a walker strategically, such as when the terrain is uneven or slippery.

Signs You’re Ready to Reduce Walker Use After Back Surgery

Knowing when to transition away from using a walker is important. Here are three signs that indicate you might be ready to reduce your reliance on the walker:

  • Increased confidence and balance: If you can walk longer distances without discomfort or instability, it’s a positive sign. Improved balance and coordination are crucial indicators that your body is regaining its strength and stability.
  • Decreased pain: A significant reduction in pain levels while walking is another good sign. Your back and supporting muscles are healing well if you can stand and walk without needing to rest frequently.
  • Strength and endurance: Enhanced strength in your core and lower body muscles means you’re almost ready for independent movement. As your endurance improves,  you can perform daily activities with minimal support.

Keep an eye on these signs to confidently and safely reduce your walker use.

Our physiotherapists at Clearcut Physiotherapy in London are experts in guiding you on what’s appropriate for your specific condition. Always consult your healthcare provider before making changes to your recovery plan. 

Transitioning Away from the Walker After Back Surgery

Transitioning away from using a walker is an exciting milestone as you progress in your recovery. Your physiotherapist will gradually introduce more challenging exercises in your back surgery physiotherapy regimen.

They might also shift you to a less supportive device, such as a cane.

Intermediate Phase of Rehab After Back Surgery (6-12 weeks)

As you recover, your back surgery physiotherapy regime will evolve. To further improve your balance and strength, physiotherapists may incorporate more demanding exercises.

We prefer to prescribe exercises that don’t need any specialist equipment so you can easily do them anywhere, anytime. This allows us to integrate rehab into your routine, which may speed up recovery.

Patient testimonial for rehab at Clearcut Physiotherapy in London.

Here are three exercises to help transition away from your walker after back surgery:

  • Kitchen counter squats: Use the kitchen counter for support while performing squats. This exercise improves leg strength and core stability. Start with small, controlled movements and gradually increase the depth of your squats.
  • Heel-to-toe walks: Practise walking in a straight line by placing one foot directly in front of the other. This exercise focuses on balance and coordination. Try to maintain a steady pace and keep your gaze forward to help with alignment.
  • Standing hip abductions: Stand next to a counter or chair for support. Slowly lift one leg to the side, keeping it straight, and then lower it back down. Repeat for several reps on each side. This exercise strengthens the hip muscles and enhances balance.

Advanced Phase of Rehab After Back Surgery (3-6 months)

In this phase, you might start walking with a cane or without aid/support for short distances. Your therapist may gradually increase your activity levels and integrate more complex movements into your routine.

This might include longer walks, light jogging, or more advanced strength training exercises. Follow a structured approach to safely transition from using a walker while building strength and mobility.

Always remember to consult with your healthcare provider before making any significant changes. Our physiotherapists continually adjust your exercise regimen to ensure it’s appropriate for your recovery.

How to Know You’ve Outgrown Your Walker After Back Surgery

So when are you ready to ditch your walker for good? Here’s a quick checklist to see if you’re ready to take that step confidently:

Self Assessment

  • Walking confidently: You can walk without constantly looking at your feet. This indicates improved balance and confidence.
  • Daily activities: You can perform daily tasks without needing to lean on the walker for support. This includes tasks such as dressing and cooking.
  • Reduced dependency: You find yourself using the walker less for balance. A great sign that your stability has improved.

Feedback from Your Physiotherapist:

  • Regular assessments: Our physiotherapists are trained to assess your progress and provide feedback regularly.
  • Professional evaluation: They will evaluate your readiness to transition away from the walker. That’s how you know it’s a safe and appropriate move.
  • Tailored recommendations: Our physiotherapists offer personalised advice and modifications to your exercise plan. This makes for a smooth transition based on your unique needs and progress.

Tips for a Safe Transition:

  • Pacing yourself: Don’t rush this transition! Gradually increase the time spent without the walker to allow your body to adjust.
  • Listening to your body: Pay attention to any pain or discomfort. Take breaks when needed and avoid pushing through pain.
  • Continued physiotherapy: Keep up with exercises to strengthen your muscles and improve balance. Regular check-ins with your physiotherapist will provide guidance and necessary adjustments.

These simple tips will help you safely and effectively transition away from using a walker. It’s a big step towards greater independence and improved mobility.

Your Next Steps

Your dependence on your walker after surgery might be temporary, but the importance of expert advice remains fundamental to recovery.

Having a personalised back surgery physiotherapy plan is crucial. Our clinics in Eltham, Battersea, and Norbury are equipped and ready to support you every step of the way.

Our experienced physiotherapists can provide tailored exercise programs designed to meet your recovery goals.

Visit one of our clinics today for professional guidance and the encouragement you need to safely transition away from using a walker. Every step forward is a step towards a stronger, more mobile you.