best exercises after back surgery

Patients who diligently attend physical therapy sessions after back surgery are more likely to experience optimal benefits during recovery. The exercises implemented by physical therapy professionals are designed to strengthen the muscles surrounding the operative site and prevent the area from succumbing to further injury.

The following examples are the most commonly prescribed post-operative exercises according to leading Santa Monica spine surgeons and should be performed only at the practitioner’s recommendation. Resuming activity is a vital component to recovery because it helps restore oxygen-rich blood to the area and rebuild muscle tissue.


The first exercise after surgery will be walking. A few hours after the procedure, the physical therapist will help the patient stand for the first time and take a few steps as tolerated. Walking distance is gradually increased and will usually remain the sole activity during the first week.

Hamstring Stretches

After the first week, rehabilitation will progress with hamstring stretches. This activity can be performed by sitting in a chair and gently flexing the ankle until the toes are pointing upward. Patients can also lie on their backs and slowly lift one leg, supported by the hands, until it is raised up perpendicular to the body.

Knee Flexion

This exercise is done with the individual lying on his or her abdomen. While flat, the individual bends each knee alternatively bringing the foot upward toward the buttocks. The activity is a good, passive way of enhancing the flexibility of the muscles that support the vertebrae.

Pelvic Tilt

While lying on the back, the knees are bent in order to keep the pelvis stable. The abdomen is then gradually pulled inward toward the spine. The exercise works to strengthen the muscles that add stability to the spinal column.

Lying March

The lying march is performed by resting on one’s back and lifting each leg alternately just a few inches off the floor. The movements should not be jerky, but gentle and fluid.


As a patient’s strength increases, the therapist may add bridging to the regimen. The exercise is done with the person lying flat with the knees bent. The buttocks are then slowly lifted off the floor and progressively lowered back down.

As with any type of post-surgery exercise, if you choose to practice these movements on your own without the supervision of a physical therapist, be sure to clear the activity with your board-certified spinal surgeon first to avoid injury or hinder recovery efforts.

If you haven’t committed to back surgery yet and are seeking a second opinion, reach out to The Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration at (310) 828-7757. As one of the area’s leading spine centers, we can help you explore all your pain relief options, including spinal fusion and spinal fusions alternatives. Your path to a pain free life starts here.