I had a follow-up appointment with a patient recently, who is convinced that part of the reason her spine surgery recovery progressed more quickly than she anticipated is that I added aquatic or hydrotherapy to her physical therapy regimen. You see, after spine surgery, most patients feel considerable relief in knowing that the biggest hurdle of their journey has been jumped. However, the rehabilitation process to restore a strong and active life is just beginning. The coming months of physical training will be the key to helping patients recover from surgery as quickly, efficiently and completely as possible.
Exercise is a vital piece of the spine surgery recovery process, not only to help the body heal from the surgery, but to build strength in the muscles surrounding the spine to minimize the chances of re-injury or persisting back pain. It’s not uncommon to experience feelings of low-energy post-spine surgery, as the body is not able to immediately perform at optimal levels.
A thorough physical therapy routine will help to combat this fatigue, boost energy levels and mood, and launch patients on the path back to a healthy and active life. For spine surgery patients specifically, weight-bearing exercise on land is not usually possible in the early post-operative days, due to the body’s fragility and inability to support much more than its own weight. The question then becomes: ‘under these circumstances, how can we afford the spine and the entire body this invaluable exercise?’
Value of Hydrotherapy
The answer lies in hydrotherapy (water therapy). Hydrotherapy provides a gentle and comfortable environment for exercise which allows the body to move weightlessly, and therefore is especially helpful in situations including post-spine surgery recovery where exercising on land is not yet possible. Submersion in water decreases weight bearing, allowing patients to completely support their body weight with minimal effort underwater. Balance is also improved upon, as the water will permit a wider range of motion that may not be possible on land, such as standing on one leg. The patient is able to exercise with full range of motion, while supporting the weakened muscles and minimizing the stress on the spine and other joints.
Goal of Hydrotherapy
The goal of water therapy after spine surgery is to build and maintain muscle strength, flexibility, and overall function that will lead to a quicker and more complete recovery. When the muscles that surround and support the spine are strengthened in this way, they will be better able to support the spine and core muscles and ultimately better facilitate the patient’s everyday movements. Utilizing the water’s natural resistance will effortlessly improve muscle tone, while simultaneously improving cardiovascular function. The stronger and more flexible the body can become, the easier it will be to resume a life of comfortable activity, while also decreasing the chances of future back pain and spine injury.
Hydrotherapy Exercise Individually Customized
As with any exercise program, there are limitations and certain factors to consider, even with hydrotherapy, to ensure the exercise is performed with utmost safety. Though there are many different choices of water exercises available for patients, being taught and guided by a health care professional, while under the direction of the treating spine surgeon, is vital to achieving success and maintaining safety. No two spine conditions are exactly alike so the exercise regimen must be tailored to each individual according to their specific condition and circumstances.
Exercise is vital in making a full recovery after spine surgery, and hydrotherapy makes it possible to greatly improve the patient’s physical condition, while sparing the wear and tear on the body, allowing patients to meet their goals of returning to a functional and active life as soon as possible.