Healing Takes Hart: Spine Surgery, Physical Therapy Give Kevin Hart a New Outlook

Actor and comedian Kevin Hart has spine surgery and shares on recovery and physical therapy
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Comedian Kevin Hart says he is “shocked” that he’s alive today after a “life-altering” accident.

In the early morning hours of September 1, Kevin Hart’s 1970 Plymouth Barracuda veered off the road, barreled through a fence and tumbled down an embankment in Calabasas, California.

Hart’s spine fractured in three places during the crash. Surgeons successfully fused two breaks in the thoracic region (mid to upper back) and one in his lumbar region (lower back). After his surgery, Hart stayed in the hospital for 10 days before transferring to an inpatient rehabilitation facility.

The 40-year-old comedian returned home on September 20 but faces up to 18 months of intensive physical therapy — parts of which he says have been “humbling.”

“When God talks, you’ve got to listen,” he said in an Instagram video detailing his recovery. “I felt like God told me to sit down,” he said.

Currently, Hart is receiving in-home physical therapy most days of the week. Sources say his sessions consist of “physical therapist-approved exercises,” including stretching and exercises with therapy bands. Hart is determined to recover, reportedly doing his exercises even after his physical therapist leaves for the day.

Hart’s tenacity and perseverance are serving him well and will carry him through his recovery. To get an idea of what Hart’s recovery will look like, we spoke with two experts: Chetan Patel, MD, executive medical director of spine surgery at the AdventHealth Neuroscience Institute, and Samantha Corkwell, a board-certified clinical specialist in neurologic physical therapy at AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab Adanson.

An Inside Look at Kevin Hart’s Spine Surgery

The details surrounding Hart’s surgery are few. Dr. Patel offers a surgeon’s insight into what Hart’s procedure might have been like.

“For Kevin Hart, it’s likely that his surgeon was concerned about stability and how his multiple fractures would heal over time,” Dr. Patel says, noting that Hart’s surgeon probably performed a spinal fusion with instrumentation.

Because Kevin Hart’s incision is visible in the Instagram video, Dr. Patel notes that it was open surgery, as opposed to a minimally invasive procedure. “Spinal fusions can be done either way, depending on the patient’s needs. Hart’s surgeon likely considered both options before deciding which was most appropriate.”

A Two-Part Healing Process

Dr. Patel notes that there are two parts to Kevin Hart’s healing process: healing from the injury, and healing from the necessary surgery. “Kevin Hart’s fractures, his broken bones, will likely take about three months to heal,” Dr. Patel says.

In the Instagram video, Hart’s surgeon said it’s going to take a year to recover from this. “What he’s referring to is his spine fusing fully, following the surgery,” Dr. Patel clarifies. “Healing from spine surgery does take up to a year, in most cases.”

A Spine Surgeon’s Three Goals After Surgery

Dr. Patel has specific goals for his patients after surgeries like Hart’s. Stabilizing the spine through surgery is his first objective. Reducing pain, often by prescribing pain medicines and muscle relaxers, when necessary, is his second goal.

Mobilizing patients — getting them up and walking shortly after surgery — is Dr. Patel’s third, and most significant, goal. “When I mobilize a patient, helping them walk, I’m making sure they don’t get too stiff or lose muscle mass,” Dr. Patel explains.

However, it’s not just a matter of use it or lose it, Dr. Patel notes. “If you don’t move after surgery, you run the risk of developing blood clots and pneumonia, too. Mobilizing keeps the circulation going and sets the lungs upright, preventing small parts of the lungs from collapsing.”

Dr. Patel’s three goals set patients up for success in recovery, but progress is a team effort. “The patient, the surgeon and the physical therapy team all have to work together,” he says.

How Physical Therapy Promotes Spinal Healing

Hart was able to begin physical therapy shortly after his surgery, which benefits his healing process. In many cases, people don’t need a physician referral for physical therapy, so therapists like Corkwell and her team can care for people early on to facilitate a faster recovery.

“Physical therapy gets people moving the day after surgery, promoting faster recovery of mobility and independence and, in turn, a faster return home,” says Corkwell. It prevents a loss of mobility and strength during early recovery.

But initial physical therapy isn’t the type that most people envision, like exercising, Dr. Patel says. “In the beginning, physical therapy is not for strength or flexibility. The goal is simply to get you to stand and walk with some sort of assistive device,” Dr. Patel states.

“After spine surgery, patients typically need to learn how to get out of bed while working through pain and may wear a back brace to prevent any rotation or flexion of their spine,” Corkwell adds. “He needs to keep his spine stiff so that the screws and rods in his spine from the surgery don’t come apart, loosen or break,” Dr. Patel says.

Small Steps First

Getting moving soon after surgery, in as many gentle ways as possible, is one of the keys to a faster recovery. The first steps in Hart’s physical therapy likely included relearning how to:

  • Get up from a bed
  • Get up from out of chairs
  • Restore balance to prevent falls
  • Walk up and down stairs
  • Walk without a walker or cane

“When the spinal vertebrae have healed sufficiently and spinal precautions are lifted, then outpatient physical therapy can help someone work on increasing their strength, flexibility and conditioning,” says Corkwell.

Although the steps to recovery may be small at first, physical therapy empowers people to return to the activities that are most important to them and improve their quality of life.

Next Steps in Kevin Hart’s Physical Therapy

In taking short walks around his home and continuing to do his physical therapist-recommended exercises, Hart is quickly regaining his former strength — something he owes in part to his vigorous fitness routine before the accident.

Like some of the athletes treated at AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab, Hart had a good foundation for physical therapy because he was in great shape physically at the time of the accident. “Kevin Hart is an example of a person who was already fit to begin with, before his surgery and therapy,” Dr. Patel notes.

“Being physically fit prior to any injury or surgery significantly helps a patient’s ability to recover, due to having a better baseline level of strength, flexibility and conditioning,” Corkwell says.

Not only does being in shape make it easier for a patient to return to walking after surgery, but it may also help motivate patients to persevere through a difficult rehab process, Corkwell adds.

Hart’s next steps in recovery will likely include not only learning how to manage pain, but how to heal from the psychological trauma of his accident.

Emotional and Mental Healing in Physical Therapy

Corkwell states that for many patients, the toughest part of early recovery from spinal surgery is severe pain, and they also experience emotional and mental stress, too.

“Many patients struggle with being dependent on others for care and being unable to return to work, family activities and hobbies,” Corkwell says.

“You really are helpless,” Hart recently told a news outlet, detailing his struggles in early recovery of not being able to use the bathroom on his own.

As Hart is learning, the emotional recovery from a traumatic injury is an important factor, along with the physical healing process.

For all of Corkwell’s patients — including if Kevin Hart was one of them — Corkwell advises continued participation in outpatient therapy after returning home, along with continued exercise.

“Outpatient physical therapy helps them return to full independence and all the activities that bring purpose and joy to their lives,” she says. “I also recommend relaxation techniques and deep breathing exercises to assist with pain management.”

Healing Takes Heart, and Motivation, Too

In the long-term, Hart will learn to manage his spinal pain effectively while recovering from the psychological effects of this traumatic injury, too. But with the support of his physical therapist and family members, he’s motivated to regain his whole-person health.

“Kevin Hart is a great example of someone who’s motivated to get back to his life,” Dr. Patel says. “He’s following his treatment plan, he’s going to physical therapy and, best of all, he’s smiling. It’s not all smiles when he has to work hard, but he’s willing to do the work.”

“He’s working with his doctor and rehab team to make sure he has the best possible outcome. That’s truly what we want for every patient,” Dr. Patel says.

Kevin Hart’s Whole New Perspective on Life

Hart says his accident has changed his life forever. “Some of the craziest things that happen to you end up being the things that you needed the most,” he says. “When you’re moving too fast and doing too much, you can’t see the things you’re meant to see.”

“After my accident, I see things differently, I see life in a whole new perspective. My appreciation for life is through the roof,” Hart says in his video.

“I’m thankful for God, I’m thankful for life, I’m thankful for simply still being here. Don’t take today for granted, because tomorrow’s not promised.”

Physical Therapy That Helps You Feel Whole

At both AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab and the AdventHealth Neuroscience Institute, each person receives whole-person care that helps them heal in body, mind and spirit.

After spine surgery with Dr. Patel’s team, Corkwell and her team focus on the activities that are most meaningful in a patient’s life and work on those specifically in therapy. Besides providing physical rehabilitation, her team also provides resources for spiritual and emotional care, like depression screenings.

“We understand that each patient is not just a body part or a diagnosis,” Corkwell says. “We care for patients like they’re our own family members.”

And when someone no longer needs physical therapy, they are encouraged to return with any physical therapy needs for themselves or their families. “We consider them a patient for life,” Corkwell says.

If you’ve recently faced a spinal injury like Kevin Hart’s, or if you struggle with aches and pains that limit your movement, healing is possible. Your teams of specialists at the AdventHealth Neuroscience Institute and AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab are ready to help you overcome pain and regain freedom of movement.

If you’re looking into spine surgery, learn more about Dr. Patel’s team at the Neuroscience Institute. If you or someone you love needs physical therapy, schedule your appointment today at AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab.

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