As the back continues to heal, patients usually start to feel better and find they can take on more activities.

The worst pain is generally over by four weeks after surgery. Pain is likely to continue to decrease gradually, but some patients continue to have pain until three to six months after surgery. It remains important to be careful and to view pain as a warning to slow down.

See Spine Fusion Risks and Complications

Crucial Time for Fusion

During this time, the lumbar fusion bone mass is becoming established. These movements should continue to be avoided to avoid stress at the fused segments:

  • Excess lifting (anything over 10 to 15 pounds)
  • Bending
  • Twisting

Patients who were prescribed a back brace to help immobilize the back will probably be advised to continue with it for six weeks to three months after surgery.

See When to Consider a Back Brace

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Homebound patients may get some good news at this stage; surgeons often allow people to resume driving after weaning from the narcotic pain medication.

See Obtaining a Solid Spine Fusion

Physical Therapy’s Benefits

Outpatient physical therapy is may be started at least 6 weeks after surgery and lasts 2 to 3 months. Techniques are tailored to the individual, with more and more activities added as the patient improves. Therapy helps patients rethink how they walk, sit, stand, and lie down. Safe ways to lift, pull, or push objects are also covered.

See How a Physical Therapist Can Help with Exercise

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Patients may progress from slow, short walks to more demanding exercises, such as swimming. Special exercises to strengthen the muscles supporting the lower back are emphasized. Physical therapists often propose adjustments to the work environment to help patients return to the workplace. If a job is strenuous, it may take six months for the individual to be ready to return.

See Back Strengthening Exercises

Surgeons often recommend patients come in for a checkup six weeks after surgery. The checkup is a good time to share successes and challenges as patients take steps toward full recovery.