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How can I improve my recovery after lumbar fusion surgery?

When recovering from back surgery, the first primary goal is to reduce pain and increase mobility. Usually, pain and swelling control are initiated immediately after surgery with medications and ice. Most patients will be walking the day of or day after surgery.

The first exercises that will be implemented into your rehabilitation program will be simple ankle pumps that you will do either in your bed or seated. Moving the ankle back and forth will decrease your chances of forming a blood clot. You will also begin contracting the muscles in the front of the leg (the quadriceps) and in the buttocks (the gluteals). You will be instructed to perform pelvic tilts, in which you will press your navel toward the bed, and deep breathing exercises. Ice will be used to control swelling and pain, as will intravenous pain medication. Depending on your particular procedure, you may be instructed not to take any anti-inflammatory medications for a period of three to nine months.

Your physician will encourage you to walk as much as possible. You will need an assistance device such as a walker or cane for the first week; however, you should strive to limit the use of this device after the first two to three weeks when you are on stable ground. By the end of the first month, you should be able to walk one mile without your assistance device. Additional strengthening exercises for the back and abdominals can begin after the first month. You should expect a full recovery to take at least six months.

(This answer provided for NATA by the King College Athletic Training Education Program.)

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.