The Importance of Physical Therapy in the Recovery from Lumbar Disc Herniation Surgery

If you’ve recently undergone surgery for a lumbar disc herniation, you may be wondering what comes next. While the surgery itself is a crucial step in your recovery, it’s not the end of the road. In fact, proper postoperative care is just as important as the surgery itself. Physical therapy plays a vital role in the rehabilitation process and helps patients regain their strength, mobility, and function. Here we’ll discuss the benefits of physical therapy and how it helps patients navigate their rehabilitation journey successfully. Our mission is to help patients achieve the best possible outcome and get you back on your feet as quickly as possible after lumbar disc herniation surgery.

Types of Lumbar Disc Herniation Surgeries

A lumbar disc herniation is a common condition that affects the lower back. It occurs when one of the natural discs (cushions or shock absorbers) between the bones of the spine is damaged or degenerative. With a malfunctioning disc, the spinal bones may rub against each other, causing symptoms such as pain, numbness, and weakness in the legs. Conservative treatments can sometimes be effective, but surgery is often recommended when conservative treatments fail to provide relief.

One of the following surgeries may be performed for a herniated lumbar disc:

  • Lumbar Disc Replacement Surgery: This surgery replaces a herniated lumbar disc with a fully mobile artificial disc. Artificial disc replacement is the future of spine care and can significantly improve outcomes for individuals suffering from a herniated lumbar disc.
  • Spinal Fusion: This surgery removes the herniated disc and inserts a bone graft and implant to fuse the vertebrae together. Modern technology has made it possible for this surgery to be performed as a muscle-sparing and minimally invasive fusion procedure to minimize the damage to the surrounding tissue.
  • Lumbar Stenosis Surgery: This surgery removes the herniated disc and, where appropriate, extracts small portions of excess bone or arthritic debris. It also aligns and decompresses the spine. This technique is necessary if there is evidence of spinal cord compression, which can lead to long-term neurological damage if not addressed.

The surgery you receive for a herniated lumbar disc will depend on your individual health and needs. The details of recovery will also vary from patient to patient.  

Physical Therapy Will Help You Through the Recovery

The particulars of your postoperative recovery will vary depending on the surgery you received, but in most cases, physical therapy is an essential part of the rehabilitation. The goal of physical therapy is to help patients regain their strength, mobility, and function by addressing the underlying causes of their pain and helping to prevent further injury. Here are some reasons why physical therapy is so important after lumbar disc herniation surgery:

  • Physical Therapy Reduces Pain and Inflammation: Physical therapy involves stretches, movement exercises, massage, ice, and heat application, all of which can reduce pain and inflammation. It also promotes circulation and improves range of motion, which further minimizes pain and stiffness. Perhaps most importantly, physical therapy is where patients learn pain management strategies and how to avoid pain triggers.
  • Physical Therapy Improves Mobility: Major surgery on the spine will often lead to stiffness and limited mobility during recovery. Physical therapy helps to restore flexibility and improve your range of motion through specific exercises that target the affected areas.
  • Physical Therapy Strengthens Muscles: Surgery on the spine can also lead to muscle weakness in the back and legs. Physical therapy helps to rebuild strength with exercises that target the affected muscle groups.
  • Physical Therapy Prevents Further Injury: There is always a risk of further injury after surgery. This is especially true for patients who undergo spinal fusion for a herniated disc, as a fused spine cannot bend and move as freely as it once did. Physical therapy helps patients adjust their form, improve their posture, understand body mechanics, and improve their overall fitness level to reduce the risk of further injury (including adjacent disc disease and recurrent lumbar disc herniations).
  • Physical Therapy Gives Customized Care: Physical therapy is highly individualized and tailored to each patient’s specific needs and condition. This personalized approach ensures that patients receive the right treatment for their unique situation.
  • Physical Therapy Accelerates Recovery: Physical therapy promotes healing and reduces inflammation using a structured program designed to help patients regain their independence. Patients who faithfully participate in their postoperative physical therapy after lumbar disc herniation surgery can resume normal activities faster than they would be able to without it.

In short, physical therapy is a crucial component of the recovery process after lumbar disc herniation surgery. It can help reduce pain and inflammation, improve mobility, strengthen the muscles, prevent further injury, accelerate recovery, and provide customized treatment for each patient’s needs. We hope that all patients will follow their postoperative recommendations for physical therapy after lumbar disc surgery so that they can have an optimal recovery experience with the best possible outcomes.

Dr. Stephen Pehler is board-certified, fellowship-trained, Denver-based orthopedic spine surgeon who regularly treats patients with a herniated lumbar disc. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Pehler, call 303-695-6060 or contact us online today.