Post Surgery Rehabilitation


Most people who have spinal surgery experience good to excellent results. They find significant relief of pain and the return of functional movement and strength, enabling them to walk, sit, drive a car, and cope with the activities of daily life.

Patients often report improvements in the way they feel immediately after they awake from the surgery. Although many patients see and feel immediate benefits, they maximize the benefits of surgery by taking part in a comprehensive rehabilitation program.

Learn about spinal rehabilitation after surgery including

  • what you can do to control your pain when you return home
  • how to move your body safely as you heal from surgery
  • why outpatient physical therapy may be beneficial

Managing at home

Before leaving the hospital, your physical therapist (PT) may outline ways for you to help control symptoms once you get home. Here are some ideas that may help.

Ice and Heat

You may be instructed in “first aid” pain control measures using ice or heat. Cold treatments are usually chosen in the first few days after surgery. Ice makes blood vessels vasoconstrict (get smaller), decreasing the blood flow. This helps control inflammation, muscle spasm, and pain. Heat makes blood vessels vasodilate (get larger), increasing the blood flow. This action helps flush away chemicals that cause pain. It also helps bring in healing nutrients and oxygen.


Pain after surgery can be physically and emotionally draining. Relaxation exercises can help control pain and its accompanying stress. You may be given a set of breathing exercises to help air reach even the lower lobes of your lungs. Combining deep breathing to a slow relaxing count can help muscles relax, while bringing much needed oxygen to sore tissues.


Giving your body a chance to rest can help ease soreness after surgery, giving your spine time to heal. Follow your doctor’s instructions for using any prescribed supports or braces.


Your therapist may give you ideas of ways to position your spine for the greatest comfort. These positions help take pressure of the surgical area by supporting your spine and limbs with pillows or towels.


Careful movements suggested by your therapist can safely ease pain by providing nutrition and lubrication in the areas close to the surgical area. Movement of joints and muscles also signals the nervous system to block incoming pain.

Body Movement

Using safe body movements can help you avoid extra strain on your spine in the weeks after your spine surgery.

Lying in Bed

Avoid lying in positions that twist or angle your spine. Don’t curl up in the “fetal” position. Choose a firm mattress-not a soft bed or sofa. Keep enough pillows nearby to support your head, shoulders, trunk, and legs.

Moving in Bed

When getting in or out of bed, use the “log roll” technique. This is a way to roll to your side and sit up while keeping your spine steady and secure. Instead of twisting your upper body when you roll to one side, try to roll your whole body as a unit, like the rolling of a log. Then let your legs ease off the edge of the bed toward the floor as you push yourself up into a sitting position. This reduces strain from twisting your spine, giving the surgical area time to heal.


Keep your spine upright and supported when sitting. A safe, upright posture reduces strain on the spine. Choose a chair that supports your spine. Avoid soft couches or chairs. Place a cushion or pillow behind your back while driving or riding in a car. When standing up, keep your spine aligned by leaning forward at the hips.


You may be restricted from bending for a few weeks after spine surgery. Follow your doctor’s instructions. If you are given the okay to bend, do so safely. Try to keep your back straight and secure as you bend forward keeping your spine straight. Consider using a “grabber” to avoid bending over at the waist to put on socks, shoes, or pick up items from the floor.


Your doctor may restrict you from lifting or carrying for a period of time after surgery. Don’t test your back by trying to see if you can lift or carry. If you must pick up or carry lighter items, squat down by bending your knees. Do not lean forward by bending your spine forward. Keep the item in close even if it is light. Holding the weight out in front of you puts extra strain on your spine. Check with your doctor or therapist if you have any questions about the safety of lifting or carrying.

Outpatient Therapy

Your doctor may prescribe a series of outpatient rehabilitation visits once your condition has begun to stabilize. Your recovery from spine surgery can be improved by learning new ways to strengthen your spine and prevent future problems. A physical therapist can teach you ways to help reduce your pain now and form new habits to keep your spine healthy.

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