The Southeastern Spine Institute

Walking, exercising and moving are integral components of back surgery recovery. The primary mantra to remember when moving into each new activity is to take it slowly. Ease into each new movement, testing how it feels, how far you can go before you experience pain and how you feel when you stop.

Even runners who had surgery at the peak of their fitness levels need to beware of doing too much, too quickly. Back surgery recovery rules may be a little different from other surgical recovery guidelines in that your main concern is how the exercise affects your back. When returning to your regular running routine, keep in mind this phrase: “Maintain back precautions.”

Back to Your Sport

How quickly you can return to running depends primarily on the kind of surgery you underwent, from spinal fusion to disc removal. The size of your incision also plays an important role in deciding when you’re ready to start running. Here are general rules:

  • Don’t do any exercises that involve twisting, bending or heavy lifting during your back surgery recovery. Refrain from any activity that places excessive strain on your back.
  • It takes anywhere from seven to 14 days for an incision to heal. Refrain from heavy pounding until you know that your stiches won’t be compromised.
  • You most likely will have to wait about six months before you can return to running if you’ve had any kind of lumbar spinal fusion surgery. Bones need to heal, making fusion procedures some of the hardest to recover from.
  • Within about a month, you can start running for short distances following decompression surgery for degenerative bone disorders. You’ll probably feel much better as soon as your stiches heal. By the time your back surgery recovery period ends, you’ll be eager to get running again.
  • When your surgical procedure was less invasive and relied on micro-surgical techniques, you’ll be encouraged to start walking immediately. You may be able to return to running, even competitively, within six to eight weeks.

Back to the Beginning

Naturally, how quickly and how heartily you get into running following your back surgery recovery depends on how much you did before your injury or ailment. Studies show that Olympic-level runners, for example, go on to experience extraordinary careers following successful back surgery recovery.

Your overall fitness level, types of competition you participated in before you surgery and what kind of back surgery you had, all add to your surgeon’s determination of when you can start running again – and how far and fast you can go.

Running Backs

Your back surgery recovery rules are determined by your doctor and physical therapist. Do not embark on any strenuous activity before you get the green light from your surgeon. Once you do get back on the road, take it easy; be patient with your body, and build up to your pre-surgical running levels deliberately and wisely. Here are some final tips:

  • Start on flat surfaces and add inclines and steps as you progress.
  • Run on softer surfaces as first, such as wooded trails, treadmills or cushioned gym floors.
  • Add cross-training to your running regimen to strengthen your core, support your legs and relieve pressure on your back.
  • Get new shoes that provide even more cushioning to reduce even more of the strain on your spine.