Exercising after Spine Surgery

Let Comfort Be Your Guide

Question: My L5-S1 vertebrae have been fused—and I have 2 small rods to keep 2 artificial discs in place. The surgery was in February 2009, and I've started running again. It feels okay, but there's some soreness. Is the soreness telling me that it's too soon to run?
—Baltimore, MD

Take time to recuperate, womans feet with slippers nearbyTake time to recuperate, womans feet with slippers nearbyAnswer: Gradually working activity back into your post-operative routine is important to a successful, speedy recovery. Most fusion patients are afraid to be active, fearing that it might adversely affect the effectiveness of their surgery. But if you incorporate exercise gradually, then it will actually promote a healthy recovery.

The overarching guideline when it comes to exercising after surgery is to steadily increase activity the first few weeks after surgery. Don't jump into your pre-surgery routine 2 weeks after surgery—even if you do feel better. But throughout your recovery, let comfort be your guide.

I wish I could give you a clear-cut answer as to when you may safely enjoy the activities you did before you had surgery. But there is no standard time as to when patients can fully get back into their pre-surgery exercise routine.

This is especially true for lumbar fusion patients because it can take up to a year for a lumbar fusion to fully heal. Now, you say you had surgery in February 2009. That was nearly a year ago—but remember, fusions take time to heal.

Post-operative pain levels also vary greatly. You may feel a significant improvement in pain 2 weeks after surgery, whereas another person undergoing the same surgery may feel completely different.

You mention soreness—not pain. The soreness may be associated with your fusion, but it could also be muscle soreness from running (which is very possible if you haven't been active for a few months). Even if the soreness isn't enough to make you stop running, I would suggest discussing it with your doctor. It will be worth it for your peace of mind.

The best advice I can give you is to listen to your body. Even if it just seems bothersome, it may be cause for concern. But with that said, I commend you for being active and making exercise a priority. Just take it easy and don't hesitate to bring up any new pains or symptoms to your doctor.