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How Aqua Therapy Can Increase Mobility After Lumbar Spinal Fusion

How Aqua Therapy Can Increase Mobility After Lumbar Spinal Fusion

Do you have a patient who has had or is planning to have lumbar spinal fusion surgery? Although healing from major surgery takes time, some therapies can help them recover faster than others. Aqua therapy is a fantastic choice for spinal surgery recovery because it can reduce pressure on muscles and joints. 

Being immersed in water can help individuals exercise safely to recover their range of motion after surgery. Keep reading for a case study that shows the positive impact that aqua therapy can have after lumbar spinal fusion surgery. Aqua therapy is gentle and supportive and helps improve mobility through therapeutic movements.

What Is Lumbar Spinal Fusion?

A lumbar spinal fusion is a major surgery requiring a long recovery time. The purpose of this surgery is to join, or fuse, two or more vertebrae in the lower back using either bone grafts or metal implants. Rather than instantly fusing existing joints, this surgery can introduce bone grafts that grow and naturally fuse bones over time. Sometimes metal supports are used to add structure to this process. 

Once fully healed, the permanently joined vertebrae act like one stable and solid bone. Spinal fusion surgery is meant to relieve pressure and pain and restrict the movement of sensitive and aching joints. Although it can help relieve pain, the process of surgery and recovery is often painful itself.

How Long Does It Take to Recover From a Lumbar Spinal Fusion? 

It can take 6-8 weeks after surgery before patients can complete normal daily movement, and up to a year for full recovery. For the first few days, some patients stay in the hospital and learn how to move so that they can heal with minimal pain. It’s helpful to start moving right away, as physical movement increases blood flow and will help your body heal. 

While movements like walking are encouraged, patients should avoid anything that requires bending or twisting for some time. These motions can put unnecessary stress on the fused joints, causing pain and negatively impacting the patient’s healing journey. Taking time to rest is vital because it takes months for the vertebrae to fully grow and fuse. 

Every patient’s recovery is unique. However, gentle to more strenuous exercises are generally recommended to keep patients moving and support their healing. 

After lumbar spinal fusion, patients are typically on bed rest for a few days. Sitting up, turning over and riding in a car can all cause pain and disrupt the healing process in the patient’s spine.

Hydrotherapy and Lumbar Spinal Fusion Recovery

How exactly does aqua therapy benefit spinal surgery patients? Let’s look at the story of Judy Bryan, a HydroWorx patient who came to us while working through lumbar spinal fusion recovery. 

Judy Bryan, age 55, came to Premier Rehab two and a half months after having surgery. She had suffered from scoliosis since early childhood, but the increasing pain had finally convinced her to look into surgery, something Judy was very wary of doing. Judy ended up having lumbar spinal fusion from T9 to sacrum, totaling nearly half of her back. When she began physical therapy at Premier Rehab she was still in a great deal of pain and could not even sit to complete her initial evaluation.

Brad Stucky, Physical Therapist at Premier Rehab, had Judy begin aqua therapy in their HydroWorx 500 Series pool during the first visit following her evaluation. He instituted a core lumbar stabilization program for Judy focusing on muscle reeducation, scapular strengthening, and endurance. Some of the protocols he used included:

  • Marching in Place
  • Hip Abduction, Adduction, and Extensions
  • Squats
  • Step-Ups
  • Single Leg Balance
  • Single Leg Extensions
  • Shoulder Extensions
  • Alternating Shoulder Extensions
  • Dumbbell Fly
  • Shoulder Rotation
  • Walking on the Underwater Treadmill
  • Walking Backwards on the Underwater Treadmill
  • Side Stepping on the Underwater Treadmill
the perks of buoyancy and resistance in water

The buoyancy and resistance of the pool allowed Brad to work with Judy to strengthen and retrain her muscles without excessive pain. When the body experiences high levels of discomfort, it can prevent physical movement and cause muscle guarding, which causes recovery to take longer.

Through encouragement and direction from Brad Stucky, Judy Bryan has since been discharged and is able to perform daily functions on her own. She attributes much of her success to working with Stucky and using aquatic therapy. Working underwater gave her body the extra support it needed to complete therapeutic exercises and make consistent progress toward recovery. 

To learn more about Judy and her recovery process, watch the two videos below:


4 comments on “How Aqua Therapy Can Increase Mobility After Lumbar Spinal Fusion”

  1. i had lumbar fusion L4/L5 in 06/2021 and due to covid i have been unable to get into the pool. but I can now start my hydro therapy.
    You video has given me hope i start next week in the pool

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