Most athletes would do anything to avoid spinal surgery, but when rest, bracing, physical therapy, and other conservative measures don’t provide lasting relief for chronic back pain, surgery is often the next best solution.
If you’ve been told you should consider surgery for a persistent back problem, you’re probably encouraged about finally being able to get it resolved. Many spinal injuries or disorders cause chronic pain, undermine your strength, compromise your stability, and restrict your mobility.
If you also happen to play sports, you may feel nervous or anxious about how a more invasive treatment like surgery might affect your athletic capabilities — as well as your ability to compete or engage in your favorite sports — once you’re fully healed.
Fortunately, having back surgery doesn’t mean you’re out of the action for good. In fact, most athletes who require surgical treatment for spine-related problems find they can still train and perform at pre-surgery levels following a complete recovery.
Whether you’re a dedicated recreational athlete or you compete at the professional level, chances are you’re eager to get on the field, course, or track as soon as possible after spinal surgery. Here’s how you can do just that without compromising your post-surgery health gains or risking re-injury.
Recognize your unique set of circumstances
As a highly active person who’s played some kind of sport for years, you may be inclined to start planning your future training goals shortly after your procedure. After all, surgical treatment aims to heal your spine and restore physical function, not inflict new limits on your range of motion or overall mobility.
But as is the case following any type of orthopedic surgery, recovery is a highly individual process that’s shaped by a variety of factors, all of which should be considered when coming up with a comprehensive rehabilitation plan designed to get you back in the action.
The type of sport you plan to resume is also important — contact sports like football may no longer be a viable option for athletes who’ve had a lumbar fusion to stabilize their spines. Athletes who’ve undergone a minor microdiscectomy to take care of a problematic disc may be able to return to high-impact activities without any difficulty.
The individual factors that shape your unique set of circumstances will determine the rate at which you recover, as well as your future ability to play your preferred sport.
Stick to your post-operative recovery plan
The healthiest way to resume your life as an athlete following back surgery is to follow your orthopedic team’s post-operative recovery guidelines and rehabilitation recommendations. Complete post-surgical back injury rehabilitation can be hard work — it may advance more slowly than you’d like and test your patience.
But it’s important to remember that returning to sports (or even your pre-injury level of activity) before your body has fully recovered can undo any progress you’ve made, compromise the results of your surgery, and increase your risk of re-injury.
Your personal post-operative treatment plan should begin to come together before your surgery, when you and your orthopedic team discuss your desire to return to sports.
Knowing that you’d like to get back in the game as soon as possible can help your team develop a comprehensive rehabilitation plan that balances rest and healing with the type and amount of activity that’s just right for you, including your personal athletic goals.
Return to sports gradually (don’t exceed your limits)
Depending on your situation and overall progress in physical therapy, you may be given the all-clear to return to your favorite sport or take up a less intense sport or athletic activity.
It’s important to understand that, much like recovery and rehabilitation, your return to sports should be a gradual, step-by-step process that’s marked by caution and avoids as many unnecessary risks as possible.
To that end, your new post-surgery life as an athlete requires you to both redefine your current physical limits and have a solid understanding of what it feels like when you get too close to those limits. Knowing how to listen to your body so you can respect your physical limits is one of the easiest ways to reduce your risk of re-injury.
Here at Orthopaedic Institute For Spinal Disorders, we know what it takes to facilitate optimal rehabilitation and recovery for athletes of all levels following back surgery. To learn more, call your nearest Houston-area office today or use the easy online tool to book an appointment with one of our seasoned experts any time.