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Why Pilates is Great for Spinal Surgery Recovery

Back surgery is often the last resort. Only recommended when all other non-surgical treatments have been exhausted. Recovery times for spinal surgery can take months and spinal fusion up to a year.

However, by improving your pre-operative fitness and planning in post-operative rehabilitation you can shorten that time and improve your outcome.

If you’ve been told you need back surgery, then you should start looking at booking in a rehabilitation plan now. Pilates can help strengthen the muscles around your spine before surgery and a qualified Physio and Pilates instructor can guide and manage your rehabilitation.

Read on to find out why rehabilitation is so important and how Pilates can help with your post-op recovery.

Why is rehabilitation important after surgery?

Spinal surgery may be recommended if someone has a herniated disc, stenosis, spondylolisthesis, persistent leg pain, fracture, scoliosis or a weak spine.

Rehabilitation can not only help with speeding up recovery from this type of surgery but also help manage pain and get you back to your original state of fitness.

It is important to start your rehab at the right time and for long enough so you get the full benefits of your surgery.

Rehabilitation provides the following benefits:

Help with mobility

Post-surgery, scar tissue can form which can form adhesions and actually start restricting your mobility. After that surgery, you don’t want to be left with less mobility than before. Rehabilitation and exercise will help prevent this scar tissue from negating the benefits of your operation. Motion is lotion!

Improve posture and alignment

Spinal surgery could affect your balance but proper rehabilitation will ensure you get back your core strength. It will also help protect you against falling or developing bad posture or walking styles while you recover. Often people can adjust how they do things to protect against pain, and this can lead to some muscles working harder than others and causing imbalances. Rehab will give knowledge on how to protect your spine when you’re walking or working at a desk or resting.

Make you stronger

Rehabilitation will help to keep your muscles strong. Strong muscles will aid recovery and even help support the healing process.

Speed up your return to sports activities

If you want to get back to sports then rehabilitation will help you get there quicker.

Manage your pain

Building up strength in your surrounding core muscles will help manage the pain around the affected area. Often people think resting and not moving is best after spinal surgery, but actually being active will give you a much better outcome.

Is Pilates good for Spinal Surgery?

Post spinal surgery Pilates is an excellent way to get you back to full mobility quickly while protecting your back and the work done by the surgeon. Pilates can also help you ease your way back into exercise safely.

The APPI (Australian Physiotherapy & Pilates Instutute) Method is considered the best approach for spinal post operative rehabilitation and is used around the world to help recovery from spinal surgery.

The APPI methodology has been developed from a combination of Pilates teachings and biomechanical, anatomical and clinical research. It involves a graduated system of exercises that move patients through from recovery to full mobility and back to full movement and back to sports.

Each exercise works on strengthening core muscles around your spine, improving alignment and aiding movement. The method aims at bringing you back to full strength and returning you to your pre-op level of fitness - or even better!

Is Pilates suitable for all types of back surgery?

Pilates can help with decompression type surgery (i.e. Discectomy/Laminectomy).

With discectomy, a herniated disc can be removed or replaced. Laminectomy involves removing bone to relieve pressure on a nerve.

Pilates exercises work on stretching your sciatic nerve and building your abdominal muscles to improve strength and support to the spine.

Decompression surgery will need at least six weeks of pilates sessions progressing through various stages to see results.

Pilates is also beneficial for Spinal Fusion surgery.

A Spinal Fusion procedure may be undertaken if you have Scoliosis, your spine is unstable or discs are worn down. Vertebrae are fused together with bone grafts, rods or screws.

Fo this type of surgery it is recommended that you choose a six-month Pilates rehabilitation programme.

When can I start rehabilitation?

With a Discectomy/Laminectomy, rehab can start as early as Day 1-4, using APPI methods. At this stage, it’s about managing pain and getting over the fear of movement post-op.

Understanding what’s involved and how exercise can help will make this period right after your surgery easier and less scary. Often people delay their rehab because they are worried about opening wounds or affecting stitches, but the exercises that are recommended will not affect this at all, and could even help manage your pain and speed recovery.

On Day 5 more exercises are introduced then over the next few weeks you can start building core strength and the muscle slings around the pelvis and spine.

A Pilates instructor will have a specific set of exercises that gradually build up your abdominal strength and balance.

With Spinal Fusion surgery, a Pilates rehabilitation course will only begin 6-8 weeks after surgery. Exercises for this type of surgery are designed to support the spine, stabilise joints and increase mobility in your torso.

What type of Pilates exercises are recommended for post-spinal surgery?

A qualified physio and Pilates instructor will give you specific combinations of Pilates exercises that will help with spinal surgery recovery.

Some of these exercises include:

Stabilisation exercises

  • Leg stretches

  • Scissors

  • Shoulder bridge

  • Swimming


  • Clam

  • Hip twist

  • One leg circle

  • Leg lifts


  • Spine twist

  • Arm openings

  • Cobra


  • Roll ups

  • Leg pulls

  • Abdominal and oblique preparation

All these exercises should only be undertaken with supervision.

Booking Pilates Rehabilitation for Spinal Surgery

Recovering from back surgery will require time, effort and planning. It's important to build up your fitness and strength before the surgery and plan your rehabilitation in advance so you aren't left on a waiting list!

If you are interested in undertaking a rehabilitation programme for your spinal surgery with guided pilates sessions then, All Active Pilates & Physio, have several highly experienced physios and Pilates instructors. Both Andrea and Catherine have had many years of experience working in Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast.

They’ve supported clients from the early post up stage back to full function.

Chartered Physiotherapist, and APPI trained Pilates instructor, Andrea Lucas has physiotherapy appointments Monday to Friday in Hillsborough and Dromore.

Catherine is our other Chartered Physiotherapist and is available on Monday, Tuesday and Friday mornings.

To make a booking for spinal physio, just visit our website, give us a call on 07719 176265 or send us an email at

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