You may not be thrilled about the idea of participating in regular physical therapy (PT) sessions. Even so, PT is a critical step in the recovery and rehab process following most types of spine surgery, even minimally invasive procedures. Still, many people start PT and then stop it when they feel better, and other spine surgery patients simply feel it’s not necessary. While there’s something to be said for knowing your own body, it’s just as important to understand what may happen if you skip physical therapy after spine surgery.
The purposes of massage therapy, gentle stretching, hot and cold applications, and similar PT techniques are to promote tissue healing and facilitate the recovery process. Without physical therapy, you may experience a slower healing and recovery period, especially if you don’t take steps to increase circulation and get healthy nutrients to the affected part of your spine.
No matter how physically fit you were before surgery, muscles around the affected area of your spine will be weakened to some extent following spine surgery. Many patients find they are able to return to their previous levels of performance and activity if they actively participate in PT routines. However, if you skip PT, your spine-supporting muscles will remain weak, and this could contribute to:
• Added stress on your healing spine • Increased risk of reinjury • Issues with spinal stability
After spine surgery, scar tissue naturally forms around the area that was operated on, which is a natural part of the healing process. However, too much scar tissue can limit mobility and irritate nerves around the spine. If you skip PT or put it off too long, you may reach a point when will it will be necessary for a Los Angeles spine surgeon to remove excess scar tissue, but if you start your PT program as suggested, certain stretches, manipulations, and exercises can minimize scar tissue development and restore range of motion.
Some pain following spine surgery is normal and often controlled with pain medications. Physical therapy can further ease your post-surgery discomfort with various techniques and exercises. For instance, water-based therapy can sufficiently stimulate the core muscles that support your spine without placing too much pressure on healing spinal bones, tissues, or joints. Without PT, you may experience:
• A return of disruptive symptoms • Increased reliance on pain meds (and an increased risk of addiction) • Symptoms that don’t completely go away
Remember, the purpose of physical therapy isn’t to make your life miserable for an hour or two during your sessions. PT programs are based on individual needs and preferences and input from your spine surgeon. You’ll also be able to determine what goals you want to achieve. If you’re not taking full advantage of PT, you’re just cheating yourself out of the possibility of enjoying a productive recovery based on what’s most important to you.
If you’re concerned progress may not be made as quickly as you’d like with physical therapy, it can be helpful to keep a journal to document your achievements. You may be surprised at some of the strides you can make with the right approach to PT. Lastly, don’t forget to communicate with your therapist and let him or her know what’s working for you and what’s not so adjustments can be made to your therapy plan.
You can take charge of a lot of the activities—such as making sure you follow your doctor’s post-surgery physical therapy instructions—that have a huge impact on your long-term spinal health. The Spine Institute offers a variety of services, from spinal fusion to non-fusion procedures such as coflex back surgery. Los Angeles residents with any concerns about spinal health should contact the caring professionals at The Spine Institute at 310-828-7757 and schedule an appointment today.