7 tips to help you recover faster from major surgery

7 tips to help you recover faster from major surgery

If you have a major surgery coming up, you may be thinking of ways to get prepared. But it’s also important to think about what to do after surgery to ensure a speedy recovery.

Amy Barwick, doctor of physical therapy and senior physical therapist for Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wis., offered these tips for a swift recovery.

1. Always follow your doctor’s restrictions and instructions

It’s important to listen to your doctor’s restrictions, but don’t be afraid to reach out to them with any questions or concerns.

“We don’t want you to be afraid to move, so if you are not sure what movements are appropriate, make sure you ask,” she says.

The biggest mistake people make post-surgery is over-doing activity — so don’t go on vacation, plan big parties or lift too much, Barwick adds. Take it slow.

2. Ice is your friend

“Ice can assist with postoperative swelling and pain. Apply for 15-20 minutes wherever it hurts, even if it’s not the incision site,” says Barwick. “Most surgeons are going to be okay with you icing for pain but make sure to ask.”

3. Early mobilization is key

Depending on the type of surgery and your doctor’s restrictions, it’s important to get your body moving as soon as you can after surgery.

“Get up and move in the hospital,” says Barwick. “When you go home, try to get up once an hour during the day, even if it’s just to stand in place or walk around the room.”

She says a goal of 30 minutes of movement a day (and it doesn’t need to be consecutive) is recommended by many organizations, such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Cancer Society (ACS).

4. Try deep breathing

“Deep breathing after surgery assists with expelling anesthesia and prevents postoperative complications such as pneumonia,” says Barwick. “Too many of us take shallow quick breaths which decreases our oxygen input.”

Ideally, those recovering should do so from their diaphragm, the main breathing muscle under the lower ribs. This is also known as “belly breathing,” named after how the belly should go in when breathing out and go out when breathing in.

5. Get good nutrition

“Eating a balanced diet can assist with healing,” she says. “If you have no appetite, think high-calorie, high-protein snacks versus your go-to bag of chips.”

6. Massage your scar

“When your incision is 100% healed and no scabs (roughly 4 weeks), start to touch and rub it,” says Barwick. “Our skin should move and when it heals post-operatively it can adhere to the layers underneath, which can contribute to pain or decreased motion. Apply a little pressure and move the incision in each direction for a few minutes a day.”

7. And finally, don’t smoke

“Smoking is linked to slower healing rates,” she says.

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Sarah Kennedy

Sarah Kennedy is a digital content specialist with Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She previously worked as a managing editor for a B2B publication and a digital editor for various websites. She studied journalism at Columbia College Chicago.