You’ve had your surgery and been told it went well. If your surgery has been looming for a long time, it’s usually a great relief to be on the other side of it.
But now what? What can you do to help yourself heal as quickly as possible so that you can get back to living your life?
Here are our recommendations.
Some people love having an opportunity to rest for a few days after surgery. You can binge-watch your way through every streaming service you subscribe to. You can finally read some of the books on the pile by your bed. You can sleep as much as you like.
It’s heaven, right?
Not for everyone. Some people really struggle to rest. Once the anaesthetic-related drowsiness wears off, you may be raring to go. After all, you’ve finally had the op and can get back to doing the things you love.
You can. Just not quite yet.
Rest is vital after surgery. The operation may be over but the healing is still in progress – and your body does a great deal of its own natural healing work while you sleep.
Exercise and rehabilitation
But you just told me to sleep, I can hear you say!
That’s true…rest and sleep are important. In most cases, though, we don’t want you to be in bed all day. After a certain point in your recovery journey, exercise and rehabilitation are important.
Before you leave hospital, myself or a physiotherapist will probably have given you some gentle exercises to do each day to promote your recovery.
Exact advice depends on the type of surgery you’ve had. For the first couple of weeks, you may be doing exercises that you’d normally consider very easy, such as standing up, sitting down, extending your leg or bearing a little weight. Meanwhile, your body is continuing to heal and getting used to moving once more.
Though it can be frustrating, those early days of gentle exercise do pay off. As your recovery progresses, your physiotherapist is able to prescribe more difficult exercises to strengthen your body.
Eat well + hydrate
You can support your own healing by nourishing your body with good food.
Soups, broths and smoothies can be handy if you feel nauseous after surgery. They’re easy to digest and they’re packed with nutrients. In addition, try to eat plenty of:
- Fibre (wholegrain bread, porridge, quinoa etc) – this helps combat medication-related constipation and keeps you regular
- Fresh fruits and vegetables – choose antioxidant-rich options that help boost your immune system
- Protein – lean meats and eggs help build and repair muscle tissue.
A well-hydrated body is more likely to function well so drink plenty of water. Water helps to regulate your temperature, lubricate your joints, nourish your cells and prevent infections. It also improves your sleep quality. Those are important things at the best of times, but especially after surgery.
Take your medication as directed
If your doctor has prescribed medication after surgery – take it! There are no prizes for being a hero here.
Post-operative medications are prescribed to ease pain, reduce swelling and prevent blood clots or infection. Some medications should be taken regularly, others can be taken as you feel you need them. Your doctor will explain in detail before you go home.
Get some fresh air
If you can get outside, do. Sit in your garden or on your balcony. Do your physio exercises outside. Go for a short walk (once you’re told it’s OK). Fresh air, natural light, green spaces – these experiences boost your mood and may even improve your recovery.
It’s important for patients to regain range of motion, and most of the time I’m encouraging patients to get their knees and joints moving. ‘Joints are made to move’ is a common saying of mine. This is particluarily important for the knee, getting full straightening (extension) is particularly important!
Attend any follow-up appointments with your doctor (if required)
Follow-up appointments provide a useful opportunity for your doctor to review your progress. It’s a chance for you to raise any questions or concerns and to discuss the next stage of your recovery.
So, what should you not do for a while after surgery?
You might be revving to go but you can’t get behind the wheel just yet.
In the immediate aftermath of your operation, you may still be under the influence of anaesthesia, which can affect your decision-making even if you feel fine. You may also be on other prescription medications which affect your ability to drive.
For at least the first 24 hours, don’t get behind the wheel. After that, it depends on which procedure you’ve had. If your arms or legs are still healing, you will not have the physical strength to control a vehicle for a few more weeks.
Follow your doctor’s advice about when you can safely drive again, whether it takes 2 days, 2 weeks or 2 months. In the meantime, make use of delivery services or plan a short outing with a friend.
If you smoke, your doctor probably advised you to quit several weeks before your operation to reduce the risk of complications during and after surgery. It’s not easy but it is definitely worth it.
Whether you managed to quit before surgery or not, don’t reach for the fags now your operation is over.
Smoking compromises your recovery by:
- Stressing your heart
- Affecting blood pressure
- Reducing oxygen in your blood and body tissues
- Damaging your lungs.
If you need help, call Quitline at 13 QUIT (13 7848) for free information, practical assistance, and support.
Sit for too long
Of course, you’re likely to spend some time sitting in a nice comfy chair while you recover from surgery. It’s restful, it gives you chance to elevate your legs if you need to and it means you can pass the time reading or watching TV.
That said, it’s important to move. Prolonged sitting can lead to deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot). That can affect anyone who’s been sitting for a long time, whether on a long-distance flight, a day at the desk or when resting after surgery. Once a clot forms, it can travel to your heart and lungs forming a pulmonary embolus. That can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, and even death.
Try to move every hour or so. Do some ankle exercises or wander to the kitchen to get a glass of water.
Bear too much weight
Different operations call for different weight bearing instructions after surgery. For the most part, patients are encouraged to commence gentle walking on their legs immediately after surgery.
Simpler operations often require no help from crutches or walking aids, and some bigger operations necessitate the use of crutches or even frames.
It’s important to try and regain your normal walking cycle (called gait), so you’re encouraged to work on regaining range of motion (particularly straightening) and your quads activation which allows for safe mobilisation and weaning of your crutches.
Occasionally I will suggest you need to be non-weight bearing for a period of time, or at times to start a gradual incremental increase in weight bearing. Myself or your physiotherapist will explain these restrictions to you so you’ll be confident by the time you leave hospital.
Play contact sports
If you’re a sporty type, you’re understandably eager to get back in the game. You love the competition and the camaraderie. It’s been hard enough being out of it for this long already.
Just a bit longer, though. In the weeks and months after surgery, you’ll continue with your rehab and start gradually increasing your exercise levels to improve your fitness.
Contact sports are a different kettle of fish though. There’s a higher risk of reinjury, either because you’re caught up in the moment and ignore the early signs or because you’re on the rough end of a collision.
That’s why it is important to seek clearance from your care team before you return to contact sports.
How can we help?
We’re here to support you both before, during and after surgery.
Most people experience a smooth recovery but we advise everyone to look out for warning signs like fever, tenderness or warmth around the incision site, intense fatigue or throbbing/swelling in your calf or thigh.
We can provide you with detailed information about rehab appropriate to the procedure you’ve undergone and recommend capable physios for you to work with over the next few months as you recover.
All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Dr Ross Radic can consult with you to determine if a particular treatment or procedure is right for you. A second opinion may help you decide on your options.