How to Resume Exercise After Neck Fusion Surgery

If you're eager to get back to the gym after spinal or neck fusion, be aware that there are certain cervical fusion exercises to avoid, especially during the recovery period. While some of your favorite exercises might be off-limits, it's only a matter of time before you can resume regular activity.

Light exercises such as a stationary bike is good after a neck fusion surgery. (Image: Eugenio Marongiu/Cultura/GettyImages)

What Is Spinal Fusion?

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, a doctor can perform spinal fusion in any region of the spine, including the neck or cervical area. The goal of spinal or neck fusion surgery is to improve mobility, reduce pain or correct a deformity. The procedure itself, according to the Mayo Clinic, involves permanently connecting two or more vertebrae in your cervical area to reduce or eliminate the motion between them, and consequently, reducing or eliminating neck pain.

Recovering from neck fusion surgery can take several months. That's why the University of Maryland Medical Center stresses the importance of being patient while strengthening the weakened muscles and soft tissue surrounding and supporting the neck. Adhering to the physical therapy routine and performing any other exercises your doctor recommends, will help you regain mobility and move you closer to your goal of getting back to working out.

Before you jump back into a regular fitness routine, make sure to consult with your physician and physical therapist about the best way to move from supervised rehab exercises to a more traditional workout program. If you begin high-impact activity too soon, you may put too much strain on the neck area and consequently, jeopardize your recovery.

Exercise After Neck Fusion

In the days following neck fusion surgery, you will be supervised by your doctor and care team. They will lead any mobility exercises you need to perform post-surgery. After you leave the hospital, it's up to you to follow through with your physical therapy appointments and work at home to improve your strength.

When it comes to the types of exercise, Dr. David Geier, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist, tells, that quite often, a patient can start very light exercise in the days or weeks after cervical fusion surgery. What this light exercise looks like depends on each person and how they are recovering.

To begin with, it might simply be a slow progression on a stationary bike or walking. Once you start physical therapy, you will likely graduate to more challenging moves that target the muscles around your neck.

With that in mind, physical therapy will typically begin in the first six weeks following neck fusion surgery, says Geier. During these appointments, the physical therapist will guide you through neck and upper extremity activity since they have the knowledge and expertise to suggest specific strengthening, flexibility and mobility exercises while still being cautious of the recovery process.

Best and Worst Exercises

Low-impact exercises, such as walking and riding a stationary bike, are usually acceptable early in the recovery process. Geier explains that you also need to be working with a physical therapist so you can learn how to perform motion and strengthening exercises for the neck and arms in the weeks after surgery.

"Often there are exercises you can do with bands, like shoulder shrugs and scapular (shoulder blade) retractions in the early weeks after surgery," he explains. "Generally, any significant impact with exercise, as well as upper extremity strength training will be restricted for at least four to six weeks," adds Geier.

Many people who compete in athletic events or competitive activities often wonder if they will be cleared to return to play after the recovery process. For them, knowing the exact cervical fusion exercise to avoid is critical to stay safe and continue with the recovery process.

While Geier says the decision to resume certain events depends on the specific nature of the surgery, there are specific activities such as collision sports and some contact sports that you might have to discontinue indefinitely. Short of that, he points out that most patients can resume weightlifting and just about any cardiovascular exercise or conditioning after being cleared by their doctor.

Once you resume exercise, consult your physician immediately if you experience pain, tingling or numbness in your neck, shoulders and arms; muscle weakness in your arms and shoulders; or loss of bladder or bowel control.

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