physical therapy after back surgery

Physical Therapy After Back Surgery

Physical Therapy After Back Surgery

If you’ve suffered with lower back pain and are preparing to have surgery, receiving physical therapy afterward back surgery is a vital component in your recovery.  At Pontchartrain Orthopedic and Sports Medicine, our physical therapy team can develop a treatment plan to get you as active as possible.

In today’s post, we’ll discuss why it’s so important to get physical therapy after back surgery and what to expect when you go.

Do I need physical therapy after back surgery?

The short answer is, yes. You’ll have less pain and better mobility with physical therapy following back surgery. Though you will have some relief from pain after back surgery, you may believe that the surgery alone is enough. However, the spine and its surrounding muscles are complex and the compensation you may have been making to move and deal with pain pre-surgery will need attention post-surgery. Studies of physical therapy after lumber disc surgery show patients experience greatly reduces pain and improves spinal function.

Goals of Physical Therapy

The first goals of physical therapy post back surgery are to help you manage your pain and limit any inflammation you may experience. Minimizing muscles spasms is also important. Your physical therapist will show you exercises that strengthen the muscles that control and stabilize the back. Reducing pain and restoring full range of motion so you can be fully active again are the long-range goals of your physical therapy.

“The first goals of physical therapy post back surgery are to help you manage your pain and limit inflammation.”

When should physical therapy start?

You should meet with your physical therapist a few days after your surgery. Your PT will likely encourage you to start treatment as soon as possible, once your incision has healed. In fact, after surgery, your doctor will want you to get out of bed right away. The sooner you can start to move and then exercise, the less time your body has to stiffen or cramp.

Once you begin physical therapy,  you’ll be expected to start doing basic movements. As you progress, you’ll increase the complexity and weights in your exercises. So as far as physical therapy goes, the sooner, the better.

What will happen when I go to therapy?

If you’ve never gone to physical therapy before, the prospect could be a little daunting. But after a few visits with your physical therapist, you’ll see that it’s a collaborative process with the goal of helping you improve. Here’s what will happen when you to physical therapy after your back surgery.  First you’ll receive a thorough evaluation and then you’ll start treatment which will be a combination of stretching and strengthening exercises along with modalities:


Your physical therapist will gather information on the best way to treat you through a multi-approach evaluation. Specifically, your evaluation may include:

  • medical history

    Your physical therapist will talk to you about your pain level, how your injury happened, and your surgery.

  • postural assessment

    Your physical therapist will check out your posture by examining your spine when you’re sitting, standing, and moving.

  • range of motion

    By using a device called a goniometer, your therapist can measure your starting range of motion in order to keep track of your progress as you work through your treatment plan.

  • strength measurement

    The strength of your abdominal, hip, back, and thigh muscles will be measured in order to determine what exercises and weights to start you out with.

  • flexibility tests

    You might have tightness in your muscles and joints leading up to and after your surgery. In particular, the sciatic nerve often is especially tight. Your PT will test you to see how flexible you are in your hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscles.

  • scar tissue assessment

    Post surgery, your incision may have scar tissue. Your physical therapist will be sure that the tissue won’t interfere with movement.

  • functional assessment

    Your overall functionality will be assessed after surgery. Your PT will see what movements you’re able to do for work or recreational activities.


Your physical therapy will be tailored to you based on the results of your evaluation. Physical therapists have deep knowledge of the musculoskeletal system and how best to treat you post-surgery. Here are the different types of treatment they’ll prescribe:


Immediately after surgery, you’ll begin stretching to prevent adhesions from forming or scarring to occur. In particular, you’ll work on stretching your quadriceps and hamstrings. Stretches might include:

  • seated hamstring stretch

  • quadriceps flexion stretch

  • nerve stretch


In addition to a walking exercise program, your physical therapist will have you do some of the following exercises:

  • pelvic tilt

  • prone push ups

  • prone leg raises

  • supine lumbar flexion

  • sciatic nerve gliding

  • posterior pelvic tilt

  • hip and core strengthening

Physical modalities

Along with stretching and strengthening exercises, you may receive physical modalities that can ease the pain that occurs after surgery. Modalities may include:

  • electrical stimulation

  • TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)

  • heat

  • massage

  • needling

Your physical therapist will also work with you and teach you how to move correctly so that you can avoid future injuries to your back. While your physical therapy treatment may last four to six weeks, your recovery may last up to four months.

Get physical therapy after back surgery

Once you have back surgery, meet with one of our physical therapists, who will work with you as you recover. Physical therapists are trained in treating the lower back, particularly after back surgeries like laminectomies or discectomies. They can help you reduce pain and regain strength and flexibility through exercises and modalities. Physical therapy is integral to a thorough recovery after back surgery.

If you have questions about physical therapy after back surgery, or to schedule an appointment for your post-surgery physical therapy treatment plan, contact us today. 

This website is not designed to and does not provide medical advice, medical diagnosis, professional opinion, treatment or services to you or any other person. Through this website and links to other websites, Pontchartrain Orthopedics & Sports Medicine provides general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this website, or through links to other sites, is not a substitute for medical care. You should not use this information in place of a visit, call, consultation or the advice of your healthcare provider. Pontchartrain Orthopedics & Sports Medicine is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any other information, services or product you obtain through this site.