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.
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.
Follow Doctor’s Orders
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.