October 13, 2020

Physical therapy after a spinal fusion

Exercise | Neck, Back and Spine


About three months after your spinal fusion, your physician may refer you to physical therapy as an additional treatment option. The goal is to teach you how to safely strengthen atrophied (damaged or overused) muscles, teach proper mechanics and posture education. 

OrthoIndy physical therapist, Megan Boland explains the early goals of physical therapy after a spinal fusion, what exercises are used and how patients achieve long term results.

What physical therapy is done after a spinal fusion?

If you were in pain before your surgery, because of scoliosis or another condition, the muscles around your spine may have atrophied, or gradually declined because you haven’t been using them. The first thing to gain back after surgery is the muscle you lost, so you can perform basic activities the right way.

“Teaching proper mechanics (lifting, squatting, putting on shoes, etc.) and posture education is important,” Megan said. “How they do exercises and being safe is also important throughout recovery and long-term workouts.”

Your physical therapist may suggest light scar massaging and soft tissue mobilization if it’s needed.

Scoliosis Treatment Chart

Exercises after a spinal fusion

“In general, we prescribe exercises to regain and maintain the mobility and flexibility of surrounding joints that scoliosis affects like your shoulders, neck and hips to keep them healthy,” Megan said.

Some other exercises and best practices include:

  • Taking long, controlled breaths from your diaphragm
  • Finding safe upper and lower body exercises to regain strength
  • Performing exercises in different ways so you can continue at home

“In PT sessions, we make sure not only to work on neck, thoracic and lumbar stability and strength, but also make sure you have a safe long term HEP (Home Exercise Program) to continue,” Megan said. “This includes exercises on the mat, some standing, some use of TheraBand’s, swiss ball and possible balance equipment.”

View at-home back strengthening physical therapy exercises >

How long do you need physical therapy?

Once your initial strength and mobility goals are met, your physical therapist will instruct you on how to move forward. If you are already an avid gym goer and understand basic exercises, you may only need a few physical therapy sessions to get you started. 

If you are new to exercise, your physical therapy journey may be a little longer. Your physical therapist will show you the proper and safe way to move your body and instruct you on how to get the best results.

If you are still experiencing post-op pain, your physical therapy may take longer because you need more manual therapy. 

How do you achieve long-term results after surgery?

Your safety is the number one priority. Your physical therapist will cater your exercises to regaining your strength and mobility and when you achieve these goals, the exercises will be related to your personal goals. 

Before you end your physical therapy, your therapist will make sure of a few things.

  • You are set up for a HEP program to continue achieving your goals.
  • You have a thorough knowledge of how to perform each exercise safely.
  • Make sure you’re safe to go back to the gym, trainer, exercise class or physical activity you enjoy.

“We have a few exercises we use for almost all initial appointments, but as therapy progresses in time, the exercises will be more related to your functional goals,” Megan said.

Schedule an appointment 

Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists

Schedule an Appointment Call OrthoIndy 317.802.2000

By Gabby Carlson

Gabby was the Marketing Content Writer for OrthoIndy from 2019 to 2021. Gabby graduated from Taylor University in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in professional writing.

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