Will I Need Physical Therapy After Back Surgery?

Modern rehabilitation physiotherapy worker with senior client; blog: Will I Need Physical Therapy After Back Surgery?After you get spinal surgery, you may experience a dramatic improvement in back pain. This is especially true of minimally invasive procedures that have shorter recovery periods. You may feel so much better than you think you don’t need any physical therapy. However, it’s best for patients to get physical therapy after back surgery, even if it was a minimally invasive procedure.

What Will the Physical Therapist Check?

Physical therapy after back surgery is aimed at aiding in your recovery, increasing your mobility, managing your pain, and preventing further injury. In order to know what they need to do, a physical therapist needs to know the specifics of your medical history, the surgery you had, and your physical condition after the procedure.

Before you get started with exercises and other parts of physical therapy, your physical therapist will do assessments on the following:

  • Medical history
  • Posture assessment
  • Range of motion
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Scar tissue
  • Neurological assessment
  • Functional assessment

What Can I Expect During Physical Therapy After Back Surgery?

Different surgeries require different types of physical therapies. And different patients respond differently to each type of treatment. However, the basics of physical therapy after back surgery remain the same. Exercise, pain management, scar tissue remodeling, and prevention measures should be part of your PT plan.


Physical therapists are movement experts. The bulk of the services they provide should be exercises designed to help you regain mobility or reduce and relieve pain. Your physical therapist will give you specific exercises to do and instruct you on how long and how often to do them. As a general guideline, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends exercising for 10 to 30 minutes at a time, one to three times each day at the beginning of recovery. They also have some example exercises to look out so you know what to expect.

Depending on the nature of your surgery, the exercises may vary. However, they will generally include the following types of exercise in your treatment:

  • Core strengthening exercises
  • Hip strengthening exercises
  • Cardiovascular exercise
  • Flexibility exercises
  • Exercises for posture control


If you have tightness around your incision site, the physical therapist may give you a scar tissue mobilization massage. They can also give instructions on how to perform the massage at home (either yourself or with the help of a family member). This massage can help the tissue remodel and reduce the scarring over time. Another way the scar tissue can be treated is with stretching and flexibility exercises.

Pain Management

After surgery, you may experience pain and discomfort after you are no longer on pain killers. A physical therapist can help you with pain management. Some physical therapists perform electrical stimulation with TENS units for pain relief. They can also give you strategies to deal with the pain. Heat can be used to relax muscles. Cold can be used to decrease swelling and tenderness near the surgical site. 

However, these methods should only be used in addition to exercise. Real recovery is only possible with movement. If your physical therapist is focusing on topical pain relief instead of movement, then check with your orthopedic surgeon to make sure you are getting the best care possible.

Preventing Future Problems or Injury

One of the most important parts of physical therapy after back surgery is learning how to prevent future issues. They can give you information about what things you should avoid and what things you should do to keep your back healthy going forward.

The physical therapist will give you instructions on:

  • The best way to continue exercising regularly
  • How to maintain proper posture
  • Avoiding heavy lifting
  • Avoiding certain other repetitive motions like forward bending or twisting

Dr. Nael Shanti of Cary Orthopaedics Spine Center specializes in treating spinal conditions with expertise in minimally invasive surgery. He has years of experience helping patients with conditions like spinal stenosis, disc degeneration, degenerative spondylolisthesis, and disc herniation. To make an appointment with Dr. Shanti, call (919) 297-0000.