How to Approach Rehabilitation After Spinal Surgery: A Step-by-Step Guide with Dr. Brandon Claflin

How to Approach Rehabilitation After Spinal Surgery: A Step-by-Step Guide with Dr. Brandon Claflin

Spinal surgery can help you address chronic spine pain, but it can also be the cause of chronic pain if the surgery is unsuccessful, or if there are other issues that need to be addressed. Sometimes, surgical intervention itself is not enough. If you’ve had surgery and you’re ready for rehabilitation, the thought of moving those tight muscles may be daunting. It’s important to get moving as soon as your doctor authorizes you. 

According to Dr. Brandon Claflin of Oklahoma Interventional Spine & Pain, a step by step, graduated approach is best to ensure you get the fullest range of mobility and the fastest recovery without reinjuring yourself. Here, he shares his top # tips for rehabilitation post spinal surgery.

1. Wait Until You are Released

Your surgeon knows best. Even if you feel comfortable moving around, bending at the waist, or lifting an object, you shouldn’t do these things until your surgeon releases you to physical therapy or authorizes you to perform these movements. 

Although you may feel ready to move, your body may still be in the process of healing. Likewise you could be taking medications that mask your symptoms. You may not feel pain because of these medications, which can lead you to believe you’re ready to begin movements that your body isn’t ready for. 

2. Talk to Your Doctor About Realistic Outcomes

Although spinal surgery can be up to 95% effective, 25%-45% of patients report that symptoms remain post surgery. Many factors play into the effectiveness of spinal surgery, including a patient’s age, their pre-surgical biochemistry, and their post-surgery ability to move forward with rehabilitation. 

It’s important to talk to your doctor (preferably before surgery) about the outcome of your surgery and rehab. Even after surgery, there may be certain activities in which you cannot engage, like running or other high-impact sports. It’s also important to address a plan for chronic pain, if you experience it.

3. Consider All Options

Most patients think only of physical therapy as the means of rehabilitation post-surgery. While it is definitely an integral part of recovery, other methods of rehabilitation are available and may be more useful for targeting your post-surgical symptoms. 

For instance, some spinal issues (like spinal stenosis and lumbar spondylolisthesis) seem to respond better to other rehabilitation options, like epidural steroid injections to help target the nerves that are causing continued spinal pain. Contacting a spinal pain management specialist is the best way to gain access to the myriad of post-surgical treatment options that are available. 

4. Your Mental Health Matters

After any surgery, mental health can falter. Not being able to engage in the activities you once could and getting used to living in a different body can be mentally fatiguing. In addition, studies show that spinal surgery patients, in particular, are more prone to post-surgical spinal pain that may be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy and/or other psychological interventions. 

It’s important to recognize that persistent spinal pain post-surgery may be related to nerve damage, other conditions, or pre-existing psychological factors. For full recovery, psychological therapy should always be a consideration.

5. Be Patient

No one likes to hear the phrase “be patient,” but most of us need to remind ourselves that recovery is a process. Be patient with yourself and with your body. Pushing yourself to an unsafe limit could result in an injury and setback. Always follow your care team’s specific instructions so you can maintain your rehabilitation process and get the best results possible. 

If you feel like you can do more, speak to your doctor. They are the best resource for determining if additional rehabilitation options are right for you or if you’re ready to increase your rehabilitation intensity. 

The Road to Being Well

Spinal surgery has come a long way, and recovery is much faster than in decades past. If you’re recovering from spinal surgery, consider all available pain management options, including ones that may include innovative techniques like epidural injections and radiofrequency ablations. 

Remember, you only get one body. You can recover from surgery, but giving yourself time and space to recover is critical for ensuring a full and total recovery. If you still have residual post-surgical pain, or if you experience prolonged pain from another injury, contacting a pain management clinic is a good solution for treating your pain as holistically as possible.  



Rehabilitation after cervical and lumbar spine surgery – PMC

Rehabilitation after lumbar spine surgery in adults: a systematic review with meta-analysis – PMC 

The effect of perioperative psychological interventions on persistent pain, disability, and quality of life in patients undergoing spinal fusion: a systematic review