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Returning to Sports After Back Surgery

Have you suffered a back injury? Getting hurt is common for athletes of all ages, but having surgery doesn’t have to mean you

Few things are scarier for athletes than the thought of injury. But for those with active lifestyles, getting injured is something that many athletes face at one time or another, regardless of age, gender, or sport.

An injury means you’ll have to stop playing your favorite sport or participating in your favorite activities as your body heals. Sometimes, being injured means you have to undergo surgery.

One of the most common types of injury athletes experience involves the spine. While back surgery is often effective at relieving pain and strengthening the spine, it might make it seem unlikely that you’ll ever play sports again.

Aron Rovner, MD, and our team at New York Spine and Sports Surgery understand how important it is for athletes to get back in the game despite injuries. Today, we’re sharing our best tips for returning to your favorite sports after having back surgery. 

Whether you’ve had spinal fusion, disc replacement, or some other back surgery, here are the steps you need to take to return to sports safely.

1. Follow your recovery guidelines

Different types of back surgery affect your body in different ways. Surgery to treat herniated discs is generally a simple procedure. Patients can often begin walking the same day as the surgery and start physical therapy as early as three weeks afterward.

Other surgeries, such as spinal fusion, have longer recovery timelines. Patients who undergo spinal fusion often begin physical therapy after three months.\

Dr. Rovner will explain your recovery guidelines to you before your surgery. Be sure to follow his instructions to ensure your body heals properly and as quickly as possible. The healthier your recovery, the better your chances are of returning to your favorite sports.

2. Participate in physical therapy

A key component of recovery from back surgery is physical therapy (PT). The frequency of sessions and length of your PT program may vary depending on your unique situation, but it’s important for every athlete hoping to return to sports.

PT exercises strengthen your spine and improve your range of motion following surgery. The exercises may also focus on building strength in the muscles of your abdomen, legs, and buttocks. By improving muscle performance, your spine is better protected during activity. 

3. Know your sport

Some sports are harder on your body than others. How soon after back surgery you can return to sports depends on your injury and type of surgery, as well as the sports you play.

When you’re deciding when and how to return to play, consider the intensity of your favorite sports and how they impact your body. You may be able to return to gentle sports such as golf as early as 3-6 months following surgery. Depending on the type of back injury you suffered, you may need to avoid intense, high-contact sports like rugby and football.

4. Listen to your body

Athletes are often in-tune with their bodies, but it’s tempting to ignore pain so you don’t have to sit on the sidelines. After back surgery, it’s important to listen to your body. Don’t return to sports until you’re pain-free when doing a variety of movements.

Be sure to stop if you feel pain when you start playing again. Don’t assume that pain is normal when you’re reintroducing activity following a surgical procedure. In some cases, modifying your activity can take the extra strain off of your back while it continues to heal.

With the right care, it’s possible to return to your active lifestyle after surgery. Trust Dr. Rovner to develop the best treatment and recovery plan for you based on your age, the severity of your back condition, and your goals.

Whether you’re considering your options for back surgery or you’re already recovering, find high-quality care with Dr. Rovner and our team. We have offices in Garden City, New York, and Fair Lawn, New Jersey.  Book an appointment by calling the office location nearest you today.

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