Can you see a chiropractor after having surgery?

Chiropractic care has many benefits for pain relief, wellness, post-accident treatment, and more. Common questions we get are “Is it safe to get chiropractic care after surgery?” and “”How soon after surgery can I have chiropractic treatment?” The answer is – it depends.

What is rehab after surgery?

Rehab, or rehabilitation therapy, is a key component of healing for a wide variety of surgeries. While commonly associated with joint and spine surgery, rehab is beneficial for many other treatments including heart surgery, cancer surgery, etc. it typically involves a physical therapist or other specialists teaching you safe ways to resume activities like walking, bathing, etc. as well as providing exercises to strengthen muscles. Rehab can speed up and improve recovery, lessen pain over the long term, and more. Chiropractic care can often be part of a rehab plan.

The American Chiropractic Association talks about chiropractic care as part of a post-surgical recovery plan. The association worked with the Laser Spine Institute in 2013 and 2014 to create a post graduate training program to address pre- and post- surgical care that incorporates chiropractic.

Many considerations go into post-surgical care plans, starting with the surgery itself. Generally, chiropractic care is fine after sufficient healing has occurred, but the length of time for that healing varies according to the surgery and other factors. In some cases, chiropractic care can assist the healing process. Knowing which situation is which is the key, and that involves consulting your surgeon as well as your chiropractic.

As a general rule of thumb, if surgery did not involve your spine or torso, especially if it is a minor surgery, chiropractic adjustment of the torso is usually fine. For certain types of knee or foot surgery, a chiropractic adjustment of the spine, hips and torso can be beneficial to address any misalignments caused by favoring one side of the body over the other. However, discussing chiropractic care with your surgeon and discussing the surgery with your chiropractor first is still vitally important.

For major surgery, joint replacement surgery, etc., if your surgeon and chiropractor authorize chiropractic treatment, treatment will be modified. For example, adjustments and joint manipulation will probably be avoided for a while and soft tissue therapies such as stretching, passive and active mobilizations, etc. will be used instead.

Chiropractic care after spine surgery needs to be carefully evaluated. Fusions can take three to six months to fully set so timing is crucial. In some cases, chiropractic adjustment of a fused area might be avoided permanently though other parts of the body could be adjusted.

For heart and abdominal surgeries, which include c-sections, chiropractic care may have to wait anywhere between four weeks to three months after surgery. However, a 2017 study reported by the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that osteopathic manipulative treatment, which is a form of chiropractic treatment, actually improved recovery for heart patients.

Discussing with your doctor, surgeon, and chiropractor the possibility of including chiropractic care as part of a post-surgical treatment or rehab program is essential. For planned surgeries, discuss it beforehand and then again after surgery as circumstances might modify the timeline or recommendation. If the surgery was the result of an emergency, such as an accident, injury, heart attack, etc., discuss it with your medical team because everyone must have all of the pertinent information to advise and treat you.

Chiropractic care can be a valuable component of many treatment plans. Discuss the possibility with both your surgeon and chiropractor.