October 13, 2020

Physical therapy after spinal fusion: 4 things you need to know

Neck, Back and Spine


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

Read on to learn more about what to expect when you go through physical therapy after spinal fusion surgery for scoliosis and other disorders.

What is involved in physical therapy after 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. Physical therapy after spinal fusion is one way you can help your body get better so you can perform basic activities the right way.

“Teaching proper mechanics (lifting, squatting, putting on shoes, etc.) and posture education is important,” says Megan. “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 in addition to physical therapy after spinal fusion.

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Recommended exercises to do after 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,” says Megan.

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 sessions of physical therapy after spinal fusion for scoliosis or another condition, 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,” says Megan.

“This includes exercises on the mat, some standing, some use of TheraBands, swiss balls, and possible balance equipment.”

View at-home back strengthening exercises

How long do you need to go to physical therapy after spinal fusion?

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 sessions of physical therapy after spinal fusion surgery to get you started.

If you are new to exercise, your physical therapy journey might need to 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 pain after your surgery, your physical therapy may take longer. This extra pain is often an indication that a patient needs additional manual therapy.

Learn more about OrthoIndy spine treatments

How do you achieve long-term results after surgery?

Your safety is the number one priority during physical therapy after spinal fusion for scoliosis or another condition.

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 home exercise 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 other physical activities you enjoy
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