Tips for Returning to Sports After Back Surgery

There’s no question that being able to surgically repair a serious back problem has major benefits. You may even know firsthand just how wonderful it can be to finally correct a back issue that’s caused you chronic pain, robbed you of your strength, or limited your mobility.

But if you happen to be an athlete, you’re probably also worried about how surgery will impact your ability to participate in your favorite sport. The good news is that having back surgery doesn’t necessarily spell the end of your time playing sports. In fact, many athletes find they can still perform at peak levels following a complete recovery.  

At South Texas Spinal Clinic, we understand that you want to return to your sport as quickly as possible after back surgery. But whether you’re a recreational athlete or you compete professionally, we want you to get back in the action as safely as possible, too. Here’s how to do just that.

Understand your circumstances

As an athlete, you’re naturally inclined to start dreaming of future training goals within days of undergoing back surgery. After all, surgical treatment is designed to heal your back, not impose new limits.

Still, it’s essential for you and your orthopedic team to consider a variety of factors when developing a plan to get you back in the game, on the field, or in the race.

The speed with which you’ll be able to safely return to your sport of choice depends on several factors:

For example, an athlete who has a spinal fusion can often return to an active life that includes playing sports, but may need to avoid contact sports and other activities that tend to place a lot of stress on the spine.

The bottom line? Your individual circumstances will shape both the speed of your recovery and your ability to partake in the sport of your choice.  

Follow your postoperative treatment plan

If you want to know the true key to resuming your life as an athlete, we’ll give it to you straight: Follow your orthopedic team’s postoperative recommendations. Seem simple, right?

It can be, if you’re patient and willing to put in all the work that’s required for complete injury rehabilitation — even if it sometimes seems too easy or mundane. It’s important to remember that returning to sports too quickly after back surgery can undo all the healing you’ve done and compromise the results of your surgery.

Ideally, your postop treatment plan begins to take shape before your surgery, when you tell your orthopedic team about your desire to eventually return to your sport. This knowledge helps your team develop a detailed plan that balances rest and healing with the right type and amount of activity.  

If your team advises you to avoid certain movements, for example, it’s important that you heed their advice. Every recommendation is designed to get you back in action as safely as possible, one step at a time, and minimize your risk of future injury.    

Take it slowly, and know your limits

After following your postoperative instructions to a T and making good progress in physical therapy, you may be given the go-ahead to either return to your sport or resume a less intense form of athletic activity, depending on your situation.

But even if you’ve successfully navigated all the required steps to get back in the action, your post-surgery life as an athlete still requires you to be cautious and avoid as many risks as possible.

It also requires you to redefine your athletic limitations, and understand what it feels like when you get too close to your new personal threshold. This part of the recovery or reentry process is very patient-specific, in that only you can accurately assess the level of pain or discomfort you’re feeling.

If you do experience any pain or numbness during your activity, take a breath, slow down, and don’t forget to let your orthopedic team know about it. Even if you need to take a more gradual approach to your athletic return, it’s better than pushing yourself too hard and winding up back on the sidelines.

If you’d like to learn more about what it takes to facilitate optimal recovery following back surgery, call your nearest South Texas Spinal Clinic today, or make an appointment using our convenient online booking feature.

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