There are no comparative randomised controlled trials of physiotherapy modalities for chronic low back and radicular pain associated with multilevel fusion. Physiotherapy-based rehabilitation to control pain and improve activation levels for persistent pain following multilevel fusion can be challenging. This is a case report of a 68-year-old man who was referred for physiotherapy intervention 10 months after a multilevel spinal fusion for spinal stenosis. He reported high levels of persistent postoperative pain with minimal activity as a consequence of his pain following the surgery. The physiotherapy interventions consisted of three phases of rehabilitation starting with pool exercise that progressed to land-based walking. These were all combined with transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) that was used consistently for up to 8 hours per day. As outcome measures, daily pain levels and walking distances were charted once the pool programme was completed (in the third phase). Phase progression was determined by shuttle test results. The pain level was correlated with the distance walked using linear regression over a 5-day average. Over a 5-day moving average, the pain level reduced and walking distance increased. The chart of recorded pain level and walking distance showed a trend toward decreased pain with the increased distance walked.
In a patient undergoing multilevel lumbar fusion, the combined use of TENS and a progressive walking programme (from pool to land) reduced pain and increased walking distance. This improvement was despite poor medication compliance and a reported high level of postsurgical pain.
Pons T, Shipton EA. Multilevel lumbar fusion and postoperative physiotherapy rehabilitation in a patient with persistent pain. Physiother Theory Pract. 2010 Aug 8, online article ahead of print