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Will I need physical therapy after surgery?

Dr. Jean-Pierre C. Farcy

New York, NY
M.M.C. Spine Center

Yes, physical therapists will be available to help you out of bed at first and teach you how to move and walk safely on all surfaces. After the initial period you can progressively return to normal activities without specific needs for physical therapy.

Dr. Michael F. O'Brien

Denver Orthopaedics

Typically for most spine surgeries these days formal physical therapy is not required except under extenuating circumstances. I encourage my patients to develop an early active walking program trying to achieve 2-3 miles of walking per day by the time they reach three months following surgery. Occasionally for those patients having a difficult time getting back to their normal activity level several months after surgery an aerobic reconditioning program may be instituted. Typically, by one year after surgery patients are able to return to most normal activities without restrictions.

Dr. Charles E. Johnston, II

Texas Scottish Rite Hospital Orthopedic Group

Not formally.

Dr. Robert W. Molinari

Rochester, NY

Most adolescent patients heal very quickly and do not require physical therapy.

Dr. Frank J. Schwab

New York, NY

During your hospital stay physical therapists will help you with basic activities and walking. For children and adolescents physical therapy after hospital discharge is usually not necessary. In adults, an important part of recovery is regaining good muscle tone and strength. Physical therapy can thus be very helpful in adults recovering from scoliosis surgery

Dr. David W. Polly, Jr.

Minneapolis, MN

Usually physical therapy is to teach you how to get in and out of bed and in and out of chairs.

Dr. James Mooney, III

Detroit, MI

It is uncommon that significant physical therapy is required after surgery. Physical therapy service may be called to help you learn how to get in and out of bed safely and to move up and down safely.

Dr. Scott J. Luhmann

St. Louis, MO

Formal physical therapy is started in the hospital for transfers and ambulation. However, after discharge from the hospital, physical therapy is not usually continued for the typical scoliosis surgery.

Dr. John P. Lubicky

Chicago, IL
Shriner's Hospital for Children

If you are a person who has idiopathic scoliosis and had no difficulties with your muscle strength or walking before surgery, then there really isn't any need for organized physical therapy afterwards. However, if you have some sort of muscle weakness or other problems that occur from the surgery or that you had before that make walking or transferring to a wheelchair difficult, then physical therapy will be used at least for a short time to get you back to your preoperative functional status.

Dr. Stephen Ondra

Chicago, IL

Yes, physical therapy takes a variety of forms as you go through your recovery. In the hospital, we begin physical therapy, which helps you get into and out of bed, instructs you on how to take your brace off and put it on, shower and the basics of getting around. After you are home for a few weeks, we begin a physical therapy program that includes stretching, strengthening and walking. After 2 months, a more active stretching and strengthening program is begun. I have a real preference for aquatic based programs if it is practical. Such programs put your spine under very little stress and load, as you are relatively weightless in the water. This is an ideal situation to gain strength without overly stressing your surgery site or construct.

Dr. Thomas G. Lowe

Woodridge Orthopaedics & Spine Center, P.C.

Usually physical therapy is not needed. Usually I put everybody on a walking program for the first six weeks. When they leave the hospital, they walk on their own with a goal of walking 1-2 miles and they are next seen in the office at approximately six weeks following the surgery. At that point, they are instructed in a back exercise program as well as light aerobic type exercises. Patients are usually back to full activities at approximately 3-4 months without the need for formal physical therapy.

Dr. Dennis G. Crandall

Mesa, AZ

Adults virtually always require physical therapy to maximize their recovery, while children rarely require anything other than a list of home exercises.

Dr. Robert S. Pashman

Los Angeles, CA

Whether physical therapy is prescribed after surgery depends on your surgeon and the type of surgery you undergo. If the instrumentation is holding the spine rigidly, physical therapy may be prescribed within four to six weeks after surgery. Many surgeons will not prescribe physical therapy until three months after surgery or until the fusion starts to consolidate. It has been my experience that adults are more likely to require physical therapy than children or adolescents.

Dr. Patrick Bosch

Albuquerque, NM

Although the surgery slows patients down for a few weeks, they usually return to their full activity level on their own and have no need for physical therapy.

Dr. W. Christopher Urban

Glen Burnie, MD

Physical therapy is very useful during post-operative rehabilitation. It helps to build endurance and strengthen the core muscles that support the back. Information on back safety and proper lifting techniques also is provided to help you prevent future injury. Patients are seen by an in-patient therapist on the first or second post-operative day to begin mobilization and basic exercises. A specific physical therapy program is then tailored to the needs of each patient. Adolescents usually do not require formal therapy, whereas adults often benefit from a more structured program. It typically begins with a four- to six-week program, and can be extended on an individual basis. Many exercises can be done at home or in a gym once the patient feels comfortable.

Dr. Christopher L. Hamill

Buffalo General HospitalBuffalo General Hospital

Only to teach you the appropriate way to get into and out of bed and ambulate.

Dr. Baron S. Lonner

New York, NY

For most pediatric patients, therapy is minimal and will take place in the first several days of your hospitalization. This is to teach you how to get in and out of bed and to walk again. Children and adolescents rarely have difficulty after several days of physical therapy. Adults undergoing more extensive surgery will often require a period of inpatient rehabilitation in which they will be sent to a rehabilitation hospital for more intensive therapy for up to two or three weeks. Some adults will be sent home directly from the hospital where they will receive several weeks of home physical therapy.

Dr. John T. Smith

University of Utah Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

Physical therapists are involved in getting patients out of bed on the first or second postoperative day and assisting them with walking. After that, generally, physical therapy is not needed.

The commentary above recounts the experiences of these physicians. Medtronic invited them to share their stories candidly. Keep in mind that results vary; not every patient's response is the same. Talk with your doctor to learn more about any products that are mentioned above.

It is important that you discuss the potential risks, complications and benefits of spinal surgery with your doctor prior to receiving treatment, and that you rely on your doctor's judgment. Only your doctor can determine whether you are a suitable candidate for this treatment.

  • Published: June 20, 2002
  • Updated: April 19, 2010