Home » The Importance of Physical Therapy After a Cervical Spine Surgery

The Importance of Physical Therapy After a Cervical Spine Surgery

by Uneeb Khan

Cervical spine surgery is often recommended by orthopedic surgeons or neurosurgeons to either treat nerve/spinal cord impingement or spinal instability. The surgery can also be performed to treat degenerative disc disease, cervical deformity, or cervical radiculopathy.

Cervical spine surgeries normally involve processes such as removing a disc or a bone and fusing the vertebrae with a bone graft either in front of or behind the spine. This helps in surgically stabilizing the vertebrae and hence eliminates abnormal motion as well as restores normal function to the spinal nerves. 

Physical therapy or physiotherapy is usually suggested by doctors because it is considered an important part of the recovery process after cervical spine surgery. Physiotherapy in Whitby can help patients improve their neck function, strength, and mobility. Different physical therapy methods are also vital in strengthening the neck muscles and improving the nerve around the neck, therefore helping patients avoid further injury.

Moreover, the physical therapy treatment method used will depend on the extent of the patient’s injury and how long they have been recovering since their surgery. Based on this, a physical therapist will prescribe a specific series of exercises and treatment options that will help strengthen the muscles, improve balance and coordination and promote healing. 

In most cases, patients who have undergone cervical spine surgery are encouraged to participate in physical therapy for at least six weeks after their operation. This is especially important if there are any lingering effects from the procedure or if there was significant damage caused by the injury itself (such as nerve damage).

Why Would You Need Physical Therapy After A Cervical Spine Surgery?

Physical therapy helps in the recovery process and trained physiotherapists make sure that you are getting back to your normal routine as soon as possible. PT also ensures that your neck injury does not get worse or make it difficult for you to move about in your daily life activities. Because even the normal activities that you perform every day such as the way you get out of bed or bend to tie your shoelace can increase the pain caused by spine surgery. Moreover, some patients experience certain other health conditions after cervical spine surgery, such as:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Deep infection
  • Psuedomeningocele
  • Closure of opened laminae
  • Neurological deterioration

Physical therapists are trained professionals and can help individuals overcome the above-mentioned health challenges. They have been trained on how to perform various tasks including exercises, stretches, and other techniques that can help in improving your overall health status as well as functional abilities after surgery. Physical therapy can also benefit you in other ways. It can help prevent complications that may occur if you don’t get the proper treatment. It can also help prevent future problems if you continue to use your neck improperly.

Physical therapists will take into consideration the type of surgical approach before assigning a physical therapy intervention for post-operative patients. Before planning the physiotherapy strategy, physical therapists will look for other factors, such as:

  • Wound healing
  • Specific goals
  • Signs of infection
  • The physical condition of the patient
  • The psychological condition of the patient
  • Patient motivation
  • Anterior versus posterior approach

Moreover, patients who have undergone cervical spine surgery must be extremely careful and must follow precautions to improve their overall health. Some of the activities that they should limit include:

  • Bending 
  • Pushing & pulling items 
  • Lifting 5-10 pounds 
  • No overhead lifting 
  • No twisting 
  • No bending neck down to look at objects

Sometimes, limiting these activities can affect other parts of your body and may result in muscle weakness or the loss of bone strength. Physical therapy exercises and treatment methods can help you strengthen your core muscles without having any impact on your spine. Hence, physiotherapists can make sure that you stay physically fit and active while improving your overall wellbeing. 

How Does Physiotherapy Help After a Cervical Spine Surgery?

1) Physiotherapy Improves Range Of Motion

Even though a cervical spine surgery will not impact neck mobility in a way that diminishes your quality of life, it can still result in some loss of motion in the neck. This limitation can be more observed after certain surgeries such as neck fusion, where you will lose some movement in the levels above and below the fusion. Moreover, sudden tilting or jerking of the head can cause more damage and can increase the pain. 

Therefore, it is imperative that the patient take assistance from an expert physical therapist who will work on extending the patient’s ability to look from side to side, up, and down. Physiotherapists also include nerve gliding exercises to ensure the nerves are circulating blood around the injured area. These controlled movements along with the massage therapy will help maintain the movement of the vertebrae in the patient’s neck.

2) Strengthen Postural Flexibility

Physical therapy after a cervical spine surgery can help improve postural flexibility and strength. Most patients after neck surgery, experience rigidness and lack of flexibility in the muscles at the back of their neck. During physical therapy, physiotherapists will implement multiple exercises and movement therapies that strengthen the flexibility of the muscles in the patient’s neck. This also provides more strength and stability to the person’s head in order to maintain good posture.

The physiotherapist will prescribe exercises and training methods that focus on strengthening the:

  • Muscles that previously had weakness due to nerve problems before surgery
  • Muscles in and around the patient’s surgical incision
  • Multiple smaller muscles that wrap around each vertebra to help provide stability to the spine

3) Physical Therapists Provide Relevant Guidance

Proper guidance is another important component of physical therapy after cervical spine surgery. As mentioned earlier, both overusing and limiting neck movement can lead to more complications. There are some activities patients should avoid post-surgery and also must be aware of their posture throughout the day in order to get back to a healthy postural state.

A trained physical therapist will provide instructions on how you can perform your daily activities in order to prevent injuring the spine or neck further. These instructions will include everything from how to sit, stand, work, sleep or even drive after a cervical spine surgery. Physiotherapists will also provide guidance on:

  • The best ways to strengthen and stabilize the back and neck.
  • How to move around safely without reinjuring yourself.
  • How to strengthen the muscles around the surgical site.
  • The best way to become independent as safely as possible.


Though it is uncommon, there are still potential risks and complications associated with every surgery. Therefore, patients must ensure that they leverage the proper treatment methods in order to avoid prolonged and severe pain that is often experienced after a critical surgery.

Physical therapy is one of the most efficient ways to ensure controlled movement and flexibility of spine and neck after the cervical spine surgery.

Physical therapy does not only include exercises and massage therapy, physiotherapists also leverage equipment, fitness machines, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, and multiple other methods to improve your physical and mental well-being. Physical therapy is considered an effective treatment method after surgeries as it improves the healing and strengthening of the muscles. Moreover, it is one of the safest ways for increasing flexibility and mobility among patients who have undergone major surgical procedures. 

Author Bio:

Cindy Williams is a blogger in Canada. She graduated with honors from the University of British Columbia with a dual degree in Business Administration and Creative Writing.

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