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If you were active in sports prior to spinal fusion surgery, it’s safe to assume you’ll want to get back to the activities you enjoyed participating in for fun or competitively. How quickly you can return to sports, however, will depend on the level of the spine that was fused, your recovery from the procedure, and your overall health. Still, there are some general guidelines to to keep in mind as you ease back into an active lifestyle that includes sports post-fusion.

Seek Input from Your Surgeon

Being athletic can definitely improve your odds of recovering well from fusion surgery. But this doesn’t make you invincible. If, for instance, you want to get back to competitive sports, discuss this with your surgeon instead of assuming you can do this on your own. This way your doctor can put together a recovery and physical therapy plan with this goal in mind.

Set Smaller, Achievable Goals

If you had lumbar spinal fusion surgery, you’ll likely have to wait about six months or so before you can get back to any sports that involve running. As you work towards your main goal, work with your physical therapist and surgeon to set smaller goals you can achieve to boost your confidence and condition your spine at the same time. For example, you might start by increasing the duration and pace of your daily walks before advancing to anything more strenuous.

Stick to Good Diet Habits

Having to go from a time when you were active all of the time to pacing yourself as you recover may tempt you to be less cautious with what you normally eat. However, doing so can make the recovery process longer or contribute to new issues with tissue swelling, especially around the surgical site and where the hardware is located. Instead, opt for a diet that includes foods that naturally fight inflammation and nutrient-rich fruits and veggies. Drinking plenty of water can also help with circulation and the flow of beneficial nutrients.

Know Your Boundaries

Once you’ve been given the green light to get on the court, field, rink, or track, make sure you know your limits. If you feel anything that doesn’t seem right, take a break. Also, avoid excessive twists, stretches, and bends as much as possible. Even if you have to end up playing a different position to do so, it’s worth the effort to avoid doing anything that may affect your healing spine.

You’ll also want to pay attention to the proper form and technique that applies to your particular sport. If you need some help with this, consider working with a sports trainer. Further minimize your risk of re-injury post-surgery by warming up before running, kicking, blocking, jumping, swimming, or biking and wearing protective gear that fits right. Lastly, let your doctor know if you experience any unusual or sudden spine-related pain.