The purpose of this study was to provide a systematic and comprehensive review of the existing literature regarding postfusion rehabilitation.
Using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines, the authors conducted an exhaustive review of multiple electronic databases. Potential articles were screened using inclusion/exclusion criteria. Two authors independently analyzed these studies using predefined data fields, including study quality indicators such as level of evidence and availability of accepted patient-reported outcomes measures. These findings were synthesized in a narrative format. A third author resolved disagreements regarding the inclusion of a study.
Twenty-one articles with I or II levels of evidence were included in the review. The authors divided the findings of the literature review into several groups: rehabilitation terminology, timing and duration of postfusion rehabilitation, the need for rehabilitation relative to surgery-related morbidity, rehabilitation's relationship to outcomes, and cognitive and psychosocial aspects of postsurgical rehabilitation. Current evidence generally supports formal rehabilitation after lumbar fusion surgery. Starting physical therapy at the 12-week postoperative mark results in better outcomes at lower cost than an earlier, 6-week start. Where available, psychosocial support improves outcomes. However, a number of the questions could not be answered with high-grade evidence. In these cases, the authors used “best evidence available” to make recommendations. There are many cases in which different types of caregivers use clinical terminology differently. The data supporting an optimal protocol for postfusion rehabilitation remains elusive but, using the data available, the authors have crafted recommendations and a model protocol, which is currently undergoing prospective study.
Rehabilitation has long been a common feature in the postoperative management of patients undergoing spinal fusion. Although caregivers from multiple disciplines agree that the majority of their patients will benefit from this effort, the supporting data remain sparse. In creating a model protocol for postlumbar fusion rehabilitation, the authors hope to share a starting point for future postoperative lumbar fusion rehabilitation research.