When To Start Physical Therapy After Back Surgery? Learn The Best Time To Begin Your Rehabilitation

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If you’re planning to have back surgery, you may be wondering when is the best time to start physical therapy. Many questions can come up after a procedure like this. Will it hurt? How long will it take for me to recover? Will I ever regain my previous level of mobility?

Physical therapy can help with all these concerns and more; however, timing is everything. Starting your rehabilitation too soon could hinder your recovery while waiting too long could delay it.

“The right time to begin physical therapy depends on several factors that are unique to each person.”

In this article, we will explore how to determine the correct timing for starting physical therapy after back surgery. We’ll discuss the different types of procedures and surgeries, as well as the benefits of early intervention, potential risks of jumping in too quickly, and other factors that affect your post-operative rehabilitation process so that you can make an informed decision about when to begin rehab.

Immediately After Surgery

Back surgery is a major procedure that requires sufficient recovery time. Immediately after the surgery, patients are likely to experience pain, discomfort, and limited mobility. It is essential for patients to follow post-operative guidelines provided by their surgeon.

Pain Management

Pain management is critical immediately after back surgery. Most patients will receive strong pain medication such as opioids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or muscle relaxants. Patients must take these medications as instructed by their healthcare provider.

Ice packs and heat therapy can also help alleviate surgical pain. Ice should be applied intermittently for 15-20 minutes at a time, while heat therapy can be used once the swelling has subsided. However, before using any type of therapy, it is crucial to have clearance from your doctor.

“Ice lowers inflammation, which reduces pain, redness, and swelling.” -Dr. William Johnston

Wound Care

Avoiding infections is vital in recovering from back surgery. Proper wound care can minimize potential complications that may arise during the healing process. The incision site should always be kept clean and dry to reduce the risk of infection. Patients are advised not to submerge themselves into water until the stitches or staples have been removed.

In addition to keeping the incision site clean, patients should monitor for signs of infection like increased swelling, reddening around the incision site, fever or pus drainage. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

“Prevention is better than cure, especially when it comes to surgical wounds” – Dr. Edward Franco

Physical Restrictions

After back surgery, it’s common for patients to feel restricted in their movement. While every patient’s recovery process differs, it’s crucial to follow all instructions given by your doctor. Patients are advised not to twist or bend quickly after surgery, avoid lifting anything over 5-10 pounds, and refrain from participating in strenuous physical activities.

During the first few weeks post-surgery, focus on completing achievable tasks rather than trying to do everything at once. Gradually increasing walking distance is a great way to start moving but again, consult with a healthcare provider before beginning any type of exercise program.

“Patients are required to be patient during the short-term limitation period…achieving overall long-term benefit.” -Dr. Anto Bonci

After Your Wound Has Healed

When To Start Physical Therapy After Back Surgery? This is a question that many patients may have after undergoing back surgery. The recovery process is gradual, and starting physical therapy too soon can disrupt the healing process. It is important to wait until your wound has healed before beginning any form of exercise or physical therapy.

Gradual Exercise

After your wound has completely healed, you can begin with some light exercises under the guidance of your doctor or physical therapist. Gradual exercise will help you regain strength, mobility and flexibility in the muscles around your back. Exercises may include stretching, walking, cycling, swimming, or using specialized machines such as resistance bands or weights.

You should start slow and gradually increase the intensity and duration of these exercises over time. Slowly building up your exercise routine will reduce the risk of injury and ensure optimal progress for your recovery.

Scar Management

The scar from your surgery will take some time to heal, but there are methods to help minimize scarring. Following proper care instructions provided by your surgeon and avoiding direct sunlight on the incision site is recommended within the first year post-surgery. Applying silicone sheets or gels, massaging the area or using pressure garments may also aid in reducing scarring. If you notice any redness, swelling, drainage or unusual pain around your incision site, it is best to inform your surgeon immediately.

Follow-up Appointments

It is essential to attend all scheduled follow-up appointments with your surgeon to monitor and evaluate your recovery progress. Your doctor or physical therapist will assess your range of motion, strength and overall function based on your recovery plan. They may suggest changes to your therapy program based on how well your body is responding to the exercises.

It’s important for patients to communicate any concerns or difficulties they may face throughout their healing journey with back surgery. Rushing into physical therapy before your body has properly healed can worsen symptoms and prolong recovery time, therefore waiting until cleared by a medical professional will yield the best results.

“Remember that healing takes time.” – Chris Prentiss

If you have any further doubts of when to start Physical Therapy after Back Surgery, it’s essential you discuss any questions with your physician prior to starting treatment plans.

Once Your Pain Has Subsided

Patients who have undergone back surgery may experience pain after the procedure. It is normal to feel discomfort during the recovery process, and it can take weeks or even months for the body to heal fully. However, once your pain has subsided, you may be wondering when to start physical therapy.

Increasing Activity Level

Before starting physical therapy, it is important to gradually increase your activity level. This means that you should avoid heavy lifting or strenuous exercise until your body has had a chance to recover fully. Start with light activities such as walking around the house or doing gentle stretches. You may also want to consider low-impact exercises such as swimming or cycling, which can help strengthen your muscles without putting excessive strain on your back.

As your body continues to heal, you can slowly increase the intensity and duration of your exercises. Be sure to listen to your body and stop if you experience any pain or discomfort. The goal is to build strength gradually while avoiding any further damage to your back.

Physical Therapy

When it comes to physical therapy after back surgery, timing is crucial. Starting too early can cause further damage to your back, while waiting too long can slow down your recovery. As a general rule, most patients can begin physical therapy about six weeks after their surgery. However, this timeline may vary depending on your individual circumstances and the type of surgery you had.

Your doctor will likely refer you to a physical therapist, who will work with you to develop an exercise program tailored to your needs. Your therapist may focus on strengthening your core muscles, improving your flexibility, and reducing inflammation in your back. They may also teach you proper posture and lifting techniques to prevent future injuries.

“Physical therapy can be a critical part of the recovery process after back surgery,” says Dr. Adam Brufsky, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Pittsburgh, PA. “It can help patients regain strength and mobility while reducing their pain.”

It is important to understand that physical therapy is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Your therapist will work with you to develop a plan that takes into account your individual goals and limitations. They may focus on both short-term and long-term goals, such as reducing pain, improving range of motion, or helping you return to your normal activities.

Starting physical therapy after back surgery requires patience and careful planning. By gradually increasing your activity level and working closely with a physical therapist, you can safely and effectively rebuild your strength and reduce your pain over time.

When Your Doctor Gives The Green Light

Patients who underwent back surgery are often eager to start physical therapy as a part of their post-operative care. However, it is crucial to wait until your doctor gives clearance before starting any kind of physical therapy. Only when your physician gives the green light, can you safely begin your rehabilitation process.

The time taken for your surgeon to allow you to start physical therapy can vary by many factors such as age, overall health, type of procedure performed and extent of the surgery. It may take from a few weeks to several months. Patients should consult with their surgeon to seek advice on what is right for them in their unique case.

Returning to Work

After getting operated on for the back pain in most cases, patients need to put work off for a while. Many tasks that require lifting or sitting for extended periods make this rest period vital to surgical outcome. Once cleared by their doctors, they can return to work gradually, beginning with only half days or less depending on how physically demanding it is.

“It’s not uncommon to advise people to refrain from heavy manual labor three to six months following lumbar fusion,” says Harley Goldberg, M.D., board-certified spine surgeon in California..

A piece of advice that a lot of surgeons give is to ease into work slowly. Bringing down the intensity level will help you overcome fatigue and properly calibrate your energy levels. If your job requires long hours of standing or sitting, frequent short breaks can provide some relief for the lower back region.


People recovering after a back surgery cannot immediately drive themselves around.Certainly, spinal-pelvic stability needs to be maintained throughout recovery, so you must check with your surgeon about whether or not driving is safe at that time.

Experience suggests waiting until you feel able to perform all necessary movements without difficulty, including turning and bending. The seat should be adjusted so that the knees stay level with or less than your hips for optimal spine support. It’s also important to take breaks every 30-45 minutes on long drives.

“After back surgery, I usually have patients wait a minimum of six weeks before beginning any activity that might place undue stress on their backs – such as pushing heavy grocery carts,” advises Robert M. Klein, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon in Texas.

Certainly, there are different approaches from one physician to another. To obtain quality care, communicate effectively with your doctor about what you can do after the operation, how frequently you can drive, how often stops need to be taken. Lastly, always follow your surgeon’s instructions to ensure a quick recovery.

When You Are Physically And Mentally Ready

Back surgery is a major procedure, and the recovery process can be long. When it comes to physical therapy after back surgery, it’s important to wait until you are both physically and mentally ready before beginning this process.

Physically, you will need to give your body time to heal from the surgery itself. The length of time you will need to recover will depend on the type of surgery you had and your overall health status. Your doctor will give you specific instructions regarding when it’s appropriate to begin physical therapy.

Mentally, it can be challenging to adjust to life post-surgery. It’s important to allow yourself time to process the experience and focus on healing both your mind and body.

“Recovering from back surgery requires a great deal of patience,” says physical therapist Stefanie DiCarrado. “It’s essential that patients take their recovery one step at a time and not push themselves too hard or start PT too soon.”

Once you feel physically and mentally ready to begin physical therapy, it’s crucial to work closely with your doctor and physical therapist to create an individualized treatment plan that meets your unique needs.


If you have plans for traveling in the near future, it’s important to consider how this may affect your physical therapy after back surgery.

If you are flying, you should try to avoid sitting for extended periods of time as this could cause discomfort and even increase the risk of blood clots. Walking around frequently during flights and even performing simple stretches while seated can help reduce these risks. Additionally, if you are still using prescription pain medication, make sure you carry it with you and check any regulations regarding travel with medication beforehand.

If you plan on driving, it’s important to take regular breaks and avoid sitting in one position for too long. It may also be helpful to bring a small pillow or other supportive device to help reduce discomfort during the journey.

“While traveling post-surgery can be challenging, there are steps patients can take to make the experience more comfortable,” says orthopedic surgeon Dr. Nima Salari. “Planning ahead and anticipating any potential issues can go a long way.”

If your travel plans will overlap with physical therapy sessions, it’s important to communicate this with your therapist beforehand. They may be able to provide you with exercises or stretches that you can do while traveling to help maintain progress until you return.

Resuming Sexual Activity

Many patients wonder when it is safe to resume sexual activity after back surgery and physical therapy. The answer to this question will depend on several factors, including the type of surgery you had, your overall health status, and the recommendations of your doctor.

In general, most patients should wait at least four to six weeks before resuming sexual activity. During this time, focus on rest and recovery and avoiding activities that could cause strain or stress on your back. Additionally, discuss any specific concerns with your doctor and ask about any restrictions you should follow during the recovery period.

“Patients need to give their body adequate time to heal after surgery before returning to normal activities such as sexual intercourse,” says urologist Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt. “Proper communication with your healthcare team is key to ensuring a successful recovery.”

During physical therapy, your therapist can offer guidance on how to safely incorporate exercise and stretching into your routine, which can ultimately lead to improved flexibility, endurance, and possibly even enhanced sexual function over time.

Patience and clear communication with your healthcare team are crucial when it comes to physical therapy after back surgery. Listen to your body, allow for adequate rest and recovery time, and follow the guidance of your doctor and therapist in order to achieve optimal results.

Frequently Asked Questions

How soon after back surgery can physical therapy begin?

Physical therapy can typically begin a few days after back surgery, but it depends on the type of surgery and the individual’s recovery progress. The surgeon will give specific instructions on when physical therapy can begin and what exercises are safe to do.

What factors are considered when determining the appropriate time to start physical therapy after back surgery?

The surgeon will consider the type of surgery, the extent of the surgery, the individual’s overall health, and their recovery progress. They will also assess the individual’s ability to tolerate physical therapy and any potential risks or complications.

Can physical therapy be started before the surgical incision has fully healed?

No, physical therapy should not begin until the surgical incision has fully healed. Starting physical therapy too soon can increase the risk of complications such as infection or wound reopening. The surgeon will give specific instructions on when physical therapy can begin.

What benefits can be gained from starting physical therapy early after back surgery?

Starting physical therapy early can help reduce pain, improve range of motion, strengthen muscles, and improve overall function. It can also help prevent complications such as blood clots or pneumonia and improve the individual’s overall recovery time.

Are there any risks or complications associated with starting physical therapy too soon after back surgery?

Yes, starting physical therapy too soon can increase the risk of complications such as infection, wound reopening, or damage to the surgical site. It is important to follow the surgeon’s instructions and wait until the incision has fully healed before beginning physical therapy.

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