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How much can I do after surgery?

Dr. Thomas G. Lowe

Woodridge Orthopaedics & Spine Center, P.C.

Initially you are restricted to walking for the first six weeks. After six weeks you are allowed to do light swimming, bicycling and other light activities. Generally at three months, you would be able to return to almost everything except contact type sports. Contact sport restrictions are usually not restricted after approximately six months. ( Debby: this suggests that he allows kids to return to contact sports. That is a bit different than most, so I think that we need to confirm this.)

Dr. Baron S. Lonner

New York, NY

You will be permitted to walk and sit for as long as you are comfortable. Going to the movies and walking in the mall, for example, is perfectly satisfactory. During the first several months, we do not allow sports activities, but by three or four months, we will often allow patients to begin to swim and even bicycle ride. Each patient is an individual and activities will be allowed based on the speed of healing and overall recovery.

Dr. David W. Polly, Jr.

Minneapolis, MN

Usually I tell people to just walk after the surgery until your first check up, typically at 6 weeks.

Dr. Dennis G. Crandall

Mesa, AZ

Avoid bending, and stooping as much as possible. Limit lifting for the first 6 months. Walking and swimming are the best things you can do for exercise. After 9 - 12 months, you can do almost anything, including snow skiing if you want to.

Dr. W. Christopher Urban

Glen Burnie, MD

During the first few weeks after surgery, patients are encouraged to gradually begin a walking program. Walking helps to build endurance and strength. Most routine activities also can be resumed within the first few weeks. Until the spinal fusion heals, patients should avoid excessive bending, twisting or lifting more than 15 pounds. This healing usually takes about nine months. After that time, most sports, such as basketball, soccer, and running, are allowed. Depending on the type of surgery performed, your surgeon may permanently restrict contact sports, such as football, rugby, or hockey.

Dr. Charles E. Johnston, II

Texas Scottish Rite Hospital Orthopedic Group

For the first month just take walks and light chores. Depending on your type of surgery and other factors to be discussed with your doctor, you may be ready for light sports as early as 3 months postop, and back to full activity at 6 months.

Dr. Frank J. Schwab

New York, NY

After surgery your activities will be limited for a while. You will be out of bed on your first post-operative day. Each day you will increase your activity level as guided by your surgeon. Although you will return to most activities rapidly, your surgeon will review limitations during your recovery. In general, you should avoid any heavy lifting, bending or twisting until complete healing of the spine has occurred. A solid healing of the spine (fusion) will take approximately 6-9 months.

Dr. Michael F. O'Brien

Denver Orthopaedics

Immediately after surgery you will be encouraged to begin an ambulatory program as previously described with the goal to obtain 2-3 miles per day of walking in the first 3 months. By 3 months, if necessary, we can begin light duty organized and supervised physical therapy which will primarily be aerobic conditioning such as bicycle riding, swimming, treadmill walking. We will advise that you refrain from any contact sporting activity until at least one year after surgery and depending on the sport (ice hockey, football, rugby, etc) we may restrict high impact contact sports forever. Non-contact but vigorous recreational sporting activities will be allowed somewhere between six months and a year after surgery.

Dr. Stephen Ondra

Chicago, IL

How much can be done after surgery is dependent on how long ago the surgery was. Initially, the patient can simply walk around the house or near home, and engage in activities of daily living. In the second and third months after surgery, patients begin a more aggressive therapy program and can lift up to 15 pounds. In the third through six months, the patients can increase their walking stamina and stretching ability, but cannot participate in any sports. From 6-12 months, we begin a more active exercise program with the goal of returning to normal activity with some limitation at the end of the year. In general, patients who have had scoliosis surgery should avoid contact sports. Non-contact sports and non-impact sports and activities can be done. Much like a patient who has had a knee or shoulder worked on, you should be aware that your back is not entirely normal in terms of structure and biomechanics. Remember that it has implants. You should not treat yourself like a China doll, but you should be aware that there are some differences in you from other people your age. You should be aware of your body and think carefully whether the activity would put undue stress on your back. Patients will come to our office or call us with specific questions about an activity. As a rule, you will have a normal active life in most respects.

Dr. Robert S. Pashman

Los Angeles, CA

For the first year after surgery, your activities will be limited. During that time, normal activities, such as walking and traveling, are permitted. After the fusion heals, all activities restrictions are usually lifted.

Dr. John P. Lubicky

Chicago, IL
Shriner's Hospital for Children

you can after the surgery, which means that when you get up in the morning you should shower if that's your routine, get dressed, eat breakfast and start doing things. If you need to rest late in the morning or late in the afternoon, that would be sort of normal early on after discharge. However, activity levels should be increased slowly each day so that you are back to pretty much normal activity within a week or so. You should avoid trunk twisting, bending over to pick things up from the floor, and any kind of contact sports. However, normal activities like walking, going up and down steps, swimming without diving, and things of that nature as long as you are not wearing a brace. If you are wearing a brace then you will have to ask your surgeon what the restrictions are.

Dr. Jean-Pierre C. Farcy

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

You must break it up in three periods. First after leaving the hospital you won't want to do much during two to three weeks (bed to couch and short walks) Second period of six months you will be limited to walking and progressively returning to gentle protected activities, avoiding gymnastics and sports. Third period during which you will return to full activity except for contact sports.

Dr. Patrick Bosch

Albuquerque, NM

A patient’s activity level is gradually increased after surgery. Patients usually are out of bed the day after surgery. Walking progresses through the first week before discharge. For the first 2-3 months, certain activity restrictions, such as no bending, twisting, or lifting are recommended. Athletic activity is usually put on hold for 6 months, but non-impact conditioning can be added within 3-6 months.

Dr. Scott J. Luhmann

St. Louis, MO

Immediately after surgery, activities are limited to ADL (activities of daily living). Walking for 20-30 minutes two times per day is strongly recommended to rebuild muscles, gain aerobic fitness, and redevelop bone mass. Heavy lifting and bending forward are discouraged.

Dr. James Mooney, III

Detroit, MI

Activity levels will be determined and gone over with you by your surgeon. Contact sports and twisting activities will be significantly limited however.

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