Recovery from Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery for Spinal Stenosis

Will the Flexibility in My Back Return to Normal?

Question: It has been 9 weeks since I had minimally invasive spine surgery for spinal stenosis, but I still don’t feel like I have much movement in my back. Will the flexibility in my back ever return to normal, or do I have to learn to live with restricted movement?
─Aurora, CO
Woman sitting up in bed with back painAnswer: This is an important question that patients don’t often think about until after they’ve had spine surgery. Because you didn’t mention the specifics of your minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS) for spinal stenosis, I can’t accurately predict whether your back flexibility will return to normal. However, I can give you some basic guidelines on how to tell if you will have to learn to live with restricted back movement.

People recover from surgery at different rates—some people bounce back quickly after surgery, while for others, it may take months to recover. With MISS, the recovery time is much quicker than with traditional open spine surgery, but again, each patient’s recovery is unique.

Recovery from MISS also depends on which techniques were used in your spine surgery—fusions and decompressions are some common surgical techniques used for treating spinal stenosis.

It’s possible that if you have a spinal fusion at only 1 or 2 levels (2 vertebrae fused together counts as 1 level), your back flexibility may return to normal, provided that you had good flexibility prior to surgery. But when you have a fusion at multiple levels, it’s unlikely that your back flexibility will return to normal.

However, if you had a decompression (a procedure that takes pressure off the spinal cord and/or spinal nerves) without fusion for spinal stenosis, it’s likely that your back flexibility will return to normal.

It’s hard to tell, but for you, it may take longer than 9 weeks to see the full benefits of MISS. In the meantime, there is something you can do to help with the restricted movement you’re experiencing.

Ask your spine surgeon if he or she recommends physical therapy. A physical therapist can show you gentle, therapeutic exercises to help re-gain back flexibility. Physical therapy that incorporates therapeutic exercises can also help restore spinal mobility.

Please keep in mind, though, that your flexibility probably isn’t going to change drastically. If you weren’t very flexible before having minimally invasive spine surgery for spinal stenosis, you most likely won’t become very flexible after surgery.

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