5 Ways to Heal Faster After Surgery

5 Ways to Heal Faster After Surgery

Having surgery is a big deal!  It doesn’t matter whether it’s a scope to see what’s going on inside your knee or a procedure to clear a blood vessel near your heart, your body will need time to recover.  As a Physical Therapist who has treated many post-op patients, I have created a list of five things you can do after surgery to help heal faster after surgery.  The key is to maintain optimum health and avoid post-op complications.

DISCLAIMER: This post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or the opinions expressed herein.

A glass of water on a table

Stay hydrated

Drink water, drink water, drink water!  I can’t say this enough.  Staying hydrated will help tissue heal, keep infection away, and help you avoid surgical complications like a deep vein thrombosis (DVT).  Staying hydrated will help you feel better and potentially keep headaches at bay.  

Keep water handy everywhere you go.  I keep a cup of water in each room of the house so that I am constantly reminded to stay hydrated.  When I walk into a room, I see the cup and take a sip — simple!  I still use my giant hospital cup from when I had my c-section.  For some reason, I drink more water from that big cup than any other cup in our house.  Maybe it is the gigantic straw?  Perhaps it’s the ice that stays cold for hours?  Who knows, but I love to carry it around the house with me.  I only wish it fit in the cup holders of the car.

Doctor speaking to two patients in an office

Follow Doctor’s Orders

You trusted your doctor enough to do surgery, right?  So trust your doctor post-op and follow his or her orders.  Do you have a weight-bearing restriction?  Follow it!  There’s a reason you can’t put full weight on your leg.  Do you have to wear a brace or a sling?  Keep it on according to your doctor’s instructions.  Are you supposed to take the sling off when resting?  If so, do it!  If not, keep it on!  

Chances are pretty good that any doctor performing your surgery has had an insane amount of training.  They’ve done their research.  They know what works best and how to get you to heal safely and efficiently.  Listen to their orders!

Quick and healthy recoveries make for happy doctors and happy patients.

A patient at physical therapy

Get Moving…Safely!

If approved by your doctor, start moving!  Get out of bed and walk down the hallway.  It can make a world of difference in your progress.  Wiggle your toes while lying down will help with blood flow.  Gentle stretches for your arms and legs can help keep you comfortable.  

Often after surgery, your doctor will order physical therapy and occupational therapy.  Take advantage of these opportunities.  Patients who actively participate in treatment sessions with a physical therapist (PT) and an occupational therapist (OT) tend to heal faster than patients who pass on these great rehab sessions.  Yes, it’s tiring to get up and move with your therapist.  But, your therapist will be able to assess your immediate needs, prepare you for your return to home, and offer advice on how to become more independent.  They will usually give you an exercise program to continue working on to build strength and mobility — follow it!

Again, always check with your surgeon as to what type of movements and actives are safe to perform after surgery.  Be sure you have the proper support to move safely.  Do you need someone to walk by your side?  Recruit a friend or family member to help you.  Do you need to use an assistive device, like a walker or crutches?  Make sure you are fitted properly and using your device when up and about, again based on your doctor’s recommendations.

A male holding his knee due to pain

Stay on Top of the Pain

What are you doing for pain control?  I am not talking about only pain medication either.  Talk to your doctor about ways he or she recommends you stay ahead of your pain.  Sure, they may recommend a pain medication.  If so, follow their orders.  Did your doctor recommend you take your pain medication every 8 hours, no matter what?  Do it!  Did your doctor recommend you take your pain medication as needed?  Do it!  Perhaps your doctor recommended you stop taking the pain medication all together.  You can do that too!

If you wait until the pain arrives to begin pain control tactics, you are too late!  Below is a list of other techniques you can adopt for pain control besides taking a pain medication?  

Thermotherapy – heat or ice

Your doctor may have specific recommendations regarding ice or heat, so check with them before applying ice or heat to avoid contraindications.  Once you get the thumbs up from your doctor, try applying heat or ice (whichever your doctor recommends), for up to 20 minutes every couple hours.

Therapeutic massage

The doctor may advise you to avoid massaging the area he or she just operated on, but you can massage regions away from the site of surgery.  How good would a gentle shoulder and head massage feel after your abdomen has been operated on?  Maybe a foot massage will help your leg feel better if you have knee operated on?  Again, check with your doctor, for approval, before completing any massage.  Keep in mind, massage doesn’t have to be deep or painful.  It can be as light as brushing your hands lightly over your skin.  Light touch can distract the brain from pain, when it is comfortable.

Healthy breathing techniques

Focusing on your breathing is a great way to control pain.  I always tell my patients, “Smell the roses and blow out the birthday candles”.  Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Focusing on breathing for at least 5 seconds in each direction to help with pain.  As you get better with breathing, try performing each breath a little bit longer.

Listen to music

What type of music calms you down?  For me, I would choose acoustic music.  Others would probably choose some sort of classical music.  Everyone will have their own preferences as to what helps them relax.  While listening to music you can focus on your breathing patterns to take your mind off of the pain.

A spread of food on a table

Maintain Good Nutrition

Eating a healthy, well-rounded diet is important to help heal efficiently after surgery.  Proper nutrition can help you avoid complications like constipation and infection to the incision site.  Be sure to get a complete diet that provides healthy amounts of nutrients.

A depressed appetite is common after surgery.  You may have to eat smaller meals, more frequently throughout the day to consume enough calories.

Focus on foods that are high in fiber, like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and cereals.  Lean proteins are good nutritional sources:  poultry, beans, nuts, tofu, eggs, and fish & shellfish. 

Avoid foods that have low nutritional value and are labeled with titles like “lite”, “low-calorie”, “low-fat”, “sugar-free”, and “diet”.  Avoid foods that cause constipation such as red meat, dairy, sweets, and processed foods.

Healing faster after surgery text with picture of operating room

66 thoughts on “5 Ways to Heal Faster After Surgery”

  • All great advice and for anyone who has had surgery can attest – absolutely necessary! Staying on top of the pain is one I think people don’t realize, but man I remember once thinking “I can do this without the pain relievers” and I was WRONG! Great post and useful information for many

  • Great advice!! It is so important to take care of yourself after surgery, sometimes people feel so much better they forget they need to heal!!

  • Great tips! I personally haven’t had any big surgeries but I was with my mom after she had to get a rod in her hip. She definitely followed most of these tips!

  • These are great tips especially about moving and staying on top of your pain medications.

  • Great tips! About 20 years ago my dog broke my leg and after the surgery, the Dr. told me to bend my knee and place a book over it until I could start the PT (which was weeks or a month or two later) I was unable to walk for 6 mos. Anyway, I didn’t follow the instructions well and I ended up needing a 2nd surgery to break up the scar tissue as I wasn’t able to make any progress in my PT. Lesson learned!

    • OH NO , Susan! That sounds awful. 6 months is so long! I hope things have healed up since then.

  • The part about staying on top of the pain is important. I’m definitely guilty of forgetting to take a prescription when the symptoms seem to be gone.

  • Great tips! Staying hydrated is so important and I think that is one of the most overlooked steps to recovery!

  • All excellent advice! Most importantly, if you have questions ASK your providers! Moving is so important to recovery – no one needs to run a marathon, but you can’t sit in bed all day or a chair for hours and expect to fell better!

    • Yes, I totally agree with asking questions. I see so many patients that have a lot of anxiety about the “unknown”, but if they just ask their doc their fears can be calmed easily.

  • These are great tips for healing and having a positive post surgery experience! I love your point, if you trusted your Surgeon enough for your surgery, trust him to guide you post opp as well.

  • These are great suggestions! Ive only had two surgeries in my life so I’ve not had much experience with healing after. However my mom learned that nutrition really helped her heal more quickly. Moving and stretching was important too.

  • Great tips Lisa, when I had my first emergency c-section I was totally unprepared! Tough as I am that was not pleasant for anyone involved lol the second c-sec I was great and up making coffee at the nurses’ station the next morning. Planning is everything and this is super helpful for sure, thank you for sharing! ?

    • Ha, Angela, you hit the nail on the head. When we are prepared, the recovery is so much better. Which is why last minute c-sections can be so daunting and scary.

  • good tips! It is so important to listen to doctor’s order…. I had pinky surgery last summer, and it was so hard to not use my hand, as the doctor said. But, I (mainly) listened and am glad I healed properly!

    • Thank you, Brittany. It’s funny how something as little as a pinky seems so minor, but trying to carry on without using your pinky is challenging.

  • Ah, yes!! Sadly, I’ve been under the knife a number of times – these are GREAT tips. Staying hydrated and staying on top of the pain – very important.

    • Thank you, T.M. You’re right, it’s crucial to remember to stay hydrated and stay on top of the pain!

  • Absolutely!!! We have a lot of experience with healing after surgery in my house. Stay on top of the pain (set an alarm) and MOVE are the biggest ones for us. Thanks!

  • I wanted to thank you for this advice for recovering after surgery. You mentioned that it’s important to keep water handy everywhere you go. It also sounds important to check the water bottle you have often so you can be sure to refill it before you leave for somewhere else.

    • That’s a great idea, to check the water bottle often. Maybe every hour set a timer to refill. Thanks for the tip!

  • These are great tips for someone recovering from surgery. It’s easy to forget to drink or to try to do too much, but these are great reminders to aid in recovery.

  • Great advice, especially to stay well hydrated and fed! I had cancer surgery years ago, and my Sister and I stayed at a luxury resort for almost a week after I got out of the hospital. She would go get good food, or room service. I would take a walk around the halls. It was so peaceful, and lovely that someone else would clean up after us.

    • What a great idea to be able to enjoy your recovery with the help of onsite food, and good scenery!

  • Thank you so much for the advice to get up and walking around as soon as the doctor approves and to talk to your doctor about pain management. About a week ago, I found out that I am going to need a gastrointestinal surgery. I am a little nervous. Hopefully, I can look for medical centers that give me peace of mind.

  • You made a great point when you talked about how getting up and moving can make a world of difference in the process of recovering from surgery. In addition to that, I would say that it would be a good idea to participate in physical therapy if you are allowed to by your doctor. Physical therapy can help you regain motion in your joints and muscles that may have been affected by a procedure.

  • SO good! I am ridiculously inspired by this and I agree with you completely! Movement is key during any hospitalization and especially, surgery

  • It’s good to know that doing simple things like drinking water regularly and staying hydrated can help a patient recover from surgery. My friend is afraid that she might be scheduled for a complicated spine surgery but your article convinced me that recovery might be easier than she thinks. I think she should just trust the experts in general surgery who can help her improve her condition.

    • Yes, trust your doctor… otherwise chose a doctor you trust. With proper steps, recovery can be manageable.

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