How to Exercise Your Back After Spinal Fusion

After spinal fusion surgery, it could take months for the affected bones to heal and fuse together. During the healing process, certain lifestyle changes need to be put in place, including a change in your exercise routine.

You can do gentle back exercises after a spinal fusion. (Image: Stephen Lux/Cultura/GettyImages)

Depending on which stage of recovery you're in, a physical therapist will recommend exercises that are gentle on the spine, that won't cause too much strain and discomfort, and that may aid in the recovery process. A therapist may also advise you not to perform certain exercises, especially ones that put stress on the back and require lifting or twisting.

In-Hospital Exercises

In the days following your spinal fusion, a physical or occupational therapist will help you in the recovery process. She will provide an exercise regimen to help you regain strength, as well as the necessary tools, such as a cane or walker, to assist you with everyday activities. There are a number of exercises you can try in the days following surgery, including:

Ankle flexes, in which you elevate the left leg and gently flex and extend the ankle, moving through a full range of motion (ROM).

Rotations, which require rotating the foot clockwise, then counterclockwise and gradually increasing the ROM.

Toe raises, while keeping heels on the floor.

Heel raises, while keeping toes on the floor.

Leg sweeps, in which you bring the left leg to the side and return, while keeping the knee straight.

Buttocks muscle tightening, while lying on your back, legs straight, arms behind your head.

Exercises Six Weeks Post-Operation

At your six-week follow-up appointment, you may be advised to follow a spinal fusion exercise program that you can begin at home. Some of these exercises may include:

Standing with your hands flat against a wall, your right foot back and straight and your forward leg bent, push into the wall, keeping your heels on the floor. You'll feel a stretch in your calf.

Lying on your back, while supporting the right thigh behind the knee with your hands, straighten the knee until you feel the stretch at the back of your thigh.

Kneeling on the right knee, push the pelvis down while arching the back. Do this until you feel a stretch on the front hip.

Crossing the legs, right over left, pull the lower knee toward your chest until you feel a stretch in the buttock/hip of top leg.

Sitting on a chair with your knees spread apart, bend forward to the floor. You should feel a stretch in your lower back.

Exercises to Avoid

When recovering from spinal fusion surgery, minimize any stress on the back. Avoid heavy lifting and always maintain good posture, bending at the knees and hips instead of the waist. Repetitive strenuous activities that combine lifting and twisting can cause stress around the fusion, so avoid those movements as much as possible.

Even after your back has healed, avoid physical activity that involves jumping, twisting the back or bending over too far. Exercises that don't cause too much strain on the back, like riding a stationary bike, are a better option. Remember to talk with your surgeon before beginning any new physical activities or exercises.

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