How to return to sports after a Spine Surgery

Spinal Surgery is not the end of a life of sports, but it can be the beginning of a better performance.

How to return to sports after a Spine Surgery


Contrary to what people fear, Spine Surgery does not have to mean the end of a promising sports career. In fact, studies show that Olympic and professional level athletes have returned to the same level of competition after several spinal surgeries.

This is also true for recreational athletes; If you are one of them, do not let the possibility of a spine surgery prevent you from returning to a sports routine.

With a good team that involves the patient, surgeon, and physiotherapist, most athletes can anticipate a return to sports after surgery.

Here are three common spine surgeries and what you can expect in terms of returning to your exercise or training routine.

Lumbar microdiscectomy

Lumbar microdiscectomy is a common spinal surgical procedure to treat herniated discs.

Walking as an exercise can be started almost immediately after surgery. Physiotherapy is very important for an athlete to return to sports, and many surgeons will start it approximately three weeks after surgery. Studies show that an athlete's dedication to the post-operative rehabilitation program has a significant impact on returning to the level of competence prior to the injury.

Recreational athletes in non-collision sports can return to competition as early as six to eight weeks. Professional collision athletes can anticipate a return to play as early as three months, although there are some circumstances in which it can be closer to six months.

Lumbar Decompression for Stenosis

Even aging athletes with degenerative spine conditions such as stenosis who have failed to improve without surgery can get back to sports after decompression surgery. Spinal stenosis is an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal, which restricts the spinal cord and may cause pain, numbness, and sometimes weakness.

Following decompression surgery, you should refrain from heavy lifting for six weeks. You can start back to cardiovascular conditioning at three to four weeks, and can start physical therapy about one month after surgery. With good progress in physical therapy, a return to sports can be expected at three to six months.

Lumbar Fusion

Lumbar spinal fusions are done for numerous reasons, but the most common are spinal instability. Because bone-healing must occur, returning to sports after fusion is a slower process.

Physical therapy may be started at three months. The age of the athlete, the sport, and the level of competition greatly impact the speed of return. An avid golfer, for example, maybe cleared to return to play at six months after surgery. Return to contact sports is a slower process but is favorable with successful fusion.