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Spine Surgery Patients Hit the Road to Recovery

February 22, 2023

Once the surgeon finishes your spine surgery, a key component to recovery is walking – further and sooner than you might think possible.

A team from the Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network (HHCRN), Bone & Joint Institute, Ayer Neuroscience Institute and Hartford HealthCare at Home are working to optimize spine patients’ functional recovery post-surgery. This begins with getting them out of bed and walking the day of surgery and helping them progress toward a daily goal of 3,500 steps, or 1.5 to 1.85 miles, after six weeks.

“Evidence shows better functional outcomes and less use of pain medication with early mobilization after spine surgery,” says Jonathan Sylvain, PT, DPT, spine clinical rehab program manager for HHCRN.

Adapting research published through Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the Hartford HealthCare team introducing the Spine Post-Surgical Mobilization Initiative, or Mobility as Medicine, as a pilot at Hartford Hospital and the Bone & Joint Institute, he says. It will be introduced this year at other hospitals across the system.

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Move it

The Vanderbilt researchers examined factors that might limit walking for patients right after spine surgery, including such procedures as lumbar decompression, discectomy and disc fusion. In the end, Dr. Sylvain says the benefits proved too positive to ignore and prompted the Hartford HealthCare pilot.

Such benefits include:

  • Decreased need for pain medications, including opioids
  • Improved general activity level at home, work or during other recreational activities
  • Increased feeling of well-being and happiness

Hartford HealthCare spine surgery patients are given individualized education as they begin their journey toward the 3,500-step goal. They are also taught to use smart watches or phones to record their daily steps. Another therapeutic service lets them record daily pain scores and walking distance so Hartford HealthCare teams can track their progress and provide guidance.

“Our goal is to provide our patients with the most current evidence-based treatment strategies so we can optimize the recovery period and get them back to the activities they value the most. In this case, that evidence happens to be walking, early and often,” Dr. Sylvain notes.

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Next steps

The pilot team created a 20-minute educational video to show nurses, navigators, physical and occupational therapists, and medical providers across the system the benefit of early and regular walking for spine surgery patients, he continues.