Published on March 20, 2019

Life after Spinal Surgery

Get back to the activities you enjoy most after back surgery with a few simple tips from Dr. Taddonio

By: Rudolph Taddonio, MD, Orthopedic Spinal Surgeon and Vice Chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at HHS Orthopedics and Director, Scoliosis and Spinal Surgery at New York Medical College.

Dr. Taddonio shares his advice and insight on how patients can live their best lives after spinal surgery.

1. Focus on fitness

Patients should focus on improving their physical strength before surgery is scheduled with a few simple tips:

  • Strengthen core muscles with exercises that are easy on the back.
  • Strengthen leg muscles by walking, riding a bike or doing other low weight-bearing exercises.
  • Eat a healthy diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean sources of protein.
  • Lose excess weight.
  • Quit smoking at least three weeks before surgery.
  • Pre-habilitation (physical and lifestyle preparation that helps improve recovery time after surgery) is as important as rehabilitation.

These steps can help you feel better after surgery and give your body the strength it needs to begin recovery.

2. Keep a positive attitude

Recovering from spinal surgery can sometimes be a slow and painful process. A good, positive attitude goes a long way in the healing process. Your surgeon sets expectations and outlines your recovery process, but at the end of the day, it’s up to you to get healthy and strong.

The type of surgery you have dictates your recovery. Patients who had minimally invasive surgery may be able to start back to activities as soon as three weeks after their procedures. Complex surgeries, such as spinal fusion to address scoliosis, may require more patience during the healing process. It may be as long as six months before you return to activities.

Focus on the positive and what you can do, rather than what you are unable to do. Celebrate achievements – no matter how small. After all, every milestone gets you closer to where you want to be.

3. Get, and stay active

Physical activity is key to getting on the road to recovery after spinal surgery. In many cases, we have patients up and walking the same day as surgery. In fact, the more individuals move around – within the parameters set by their surgeon – the better their recovery is.

Your surgeon supervises your recovery. This includes a formal physical therapy program to learn safe stretches and exercises that strengthen your back, core and legs and allows your body to heal. Your physical therapist also shares exercises you can do at home to help aid the recovery process.

In most cases, patients are able to return to their favorite activities after healing and rehabilitation are complete. Some activities – such as football, gymnastics and distance running – are discouraged to prevent future injuries. However, individuals who have had back surgery can return to many sports, including tennis, golf, swimming and others.

Getting you on the road to recovery

Spinal surgery is a safe and effective way to treat and manage back pain and spinal conditions that interfere with your quality of life. A wide range of procedures is available – from minimally invasive surgeries to complex approaches – to treat your symptoms and condition.

Talk to your provider about whether or not surgery is right for you.