Frequently asked questions about returning to exercise or maintaining fitness levels following surgery
Many of our Transcend Health clients come to see us after having had a surgical procedure. Some clients come for physical rehabilitation specific to the kind of surgery they have had, while others come looking for advice on returning to pre-surgery activity levels or guidance on the best way for them to safely remain active and avoid muscle wastage while waiting for their surgical wound to fully heal.
We’ve put together a short list of the questions we are most-commonly asked about exercising after surgery and provided some general advice that should only be used as a guide – every person is different, and everyone responds to surgical procedures differently. Few people have the exact same level of fitness prior to their surgery, few people have the exact same degree of injury or range of movement when they have surgery, and few people will share the exact same surgical experience or recovery timeline or trajectory.
For this reason, all the information contained in this article is general only – it should not be relied upon, nor does it replace information or advice that has been provided to you by your treating medical and/or allied health practitioner/s. Always talk to your doctor, surgeon, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist before commencing or resuming any strenuous physical activity or exercise program.
For personalised treatment and recommendations, please seek medical advice or talk to one of the allied health professionals at Transcend Health.
Dos and Don’ts while you’re recovering from surgery
DO engage in “prehab” prior to surgery
The stronger, fitter and healthier you are prior to surgery, the better your surgical outcomes. Usually, fit, strong people recover faster, experience less surgical and post-surgical complications and experience less pain.
DO Move around
ensure you begin moving around and doing deep breathing and coughing exercises as soon as you can after your surgery – particularly if you’ve had surgery on your spine, heart, lungs, or abdomen. This is incredibly important, as it helps to clear any mucus that may have collected in your lungs while you were under anaesthetic, which will help you to avoid developing a chest infection.
Moving around will also get your blood pumping, which will ensure that your muscles and tissues have plenty of oxygen and help your wounds to heal.
DO take it slowly
Build your strength and fitness levels gradually – even if you’re feeling great, you still need to be careful that you don’t overdo it too early on in your recovery. Start slowly and test the waters to see what you’re currently capable of before rushing back into your pre-surgery exercise routine. Sometimes it’s not about how good or strong you’re feeling, it’s about your body’s ability to physically mend itself. The lesson here is this: Move around, walk, do gentle stretches, stay active.
DO carry out ay recommended or prescribed movement exercises
Do any at-home exercises that have been given to you by a physiotherapist or occupational therapist, as they will help you recover and regain your strength.
DO stay in contact with your GP, surgeon or EP
Consult with your doctor or surgeon, or speak with a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist, before you begin or resume any form of moderate or strenuous exercise. The last thing you want to do is injure yourself and prolong your recovery time.
DON’T push yourself too hard
Don’t push yourself too hard or too fast, but don’t sit in a chair or lie in bed all day either! Find a balance between rest and recovery, taking active steps to maintain or improve your post-surgical physical condition and fitness.
It is generally unadvisable to participate in any overly strenuous exercise while you are recovering and healing. Depending on the nature of your surgery, or the reason for it, it may be advisable to avoid certain activities for a time.
For example, if you’ve had your shoulder operated on it is probably a good idea to avoid playing contact sports or tennis for a month or two; if you’ve had reasonably-invasive abdominal surgery your surgeon will likely tell you that you need to avoid vigorous or strenuous exercise, such as running, contact sports, vigorous sex, or body conditioning activities like sit-ups, push-ups, or weightlifting, for at least two months.
What is the best way to exercise after surgery?
The best and safest way to exercise after surgery is generally to follow the advice of your health professionals. Your physiotherapist will assist you in regaining range of motion and strength to return you your activities of daily living. Generally, you will be encouraged to go for a walk. Walking after surgery:
- Reduces the risk of developing blood clots.
- Helps to prevent wound and urinary tract infections.
- Helps to gradually build fitness, strength, and endurance.
- Reduces the risk of sustaining an injury from more vigorous activities.
Obviously, this advice is dependant on your surgery. Lower limb and spinal surgery may not allow you to return to walking for a few weeks.
Hydrotherapy is also highly recommended – especially after knee, hip, and shoulder surgery, because it reduces the weight the joint is required to bear while it is being moved, enabling freer movement, and reducing stress on the joint and the wound. Low-impact forms of exercise, such as water aerobics, are great for maintaining or recovering range of movement while reducing the risk of over-exertion or over-extension. It’s important to remember that surgical wounds and swimming do not mix due to increased infection risk, so hydrotherapy is only an option after your wounds are fully healed.
How long will my surgical wound take to fully heal?
The length of time it takes for your surgical wound to fully heal is dependent upon the nature and location of the injury and surgical wound. Specific procedures have their own recommendations for what constitutes optimal recovery and how to achieve it.
Wounds that are on very mobile parts of the body may take longer to heal than those located elsewhere, and wound closures in these areas may be more prone to re-opening (called surgical wound dehiscence), due to the frequent movement and stretching of skin and underlying tissues.
How long will I have to wait before I can exercise or lift weights again?
This, again, will depend on the nature and extent of your injury and surgery. Sometimes it may be ok, or even recommended, to resume gentle to moderate exercise within a very short period; sometimes it might be advisable to wait six to eight weeks before beginning to lift weights or use an exercise bike or bicycle, stair machine or elliptical trainer.
You may be advised not to undertake vigorous exercise for a period of time following surgery, despite feeling ok. Everyone will have a slightly different experience, though it will take a few months, perhaps more than a year, to fully recover from surgery.
Ensure you follow the instructions given to you by your surgeon or physiotherapist in hospital, to assist the healing and recovery process and avoid wound breakdown, pain, and further injury. If you feel you need further help to continue or improve your recovery, consult your surgeon, doctor or an experienced physiotherapist or exercise physiologist for advice.
For advice and assistance with exercising safely after surgery, talk to the allied health professionals at Transcend Health
The physiotherapists and exercise science specialists at Transcend Health are experts in supporting patients recovering from surgery and helping them to return to (or exceed) their pre-surgery fitness levels.
We perform a thorough assessment of each client, to determine their current level of strength and fitness, get a good understanding of your injury and surgical experience, and identify any issues that may impact on your body’s ability to recover and heal itself. Our team can then work with you to increase your strength, flexibility, and endurance, and regain a higher level of fitness.
Transcend Health offer a range of services to help individuals improve their strength and mobility, including one-on-one sessions with physiotherapists and accredited exercise physiologists, and small group exercise classes.
Contact Transcend Health on 02 4961 3399 or fill out our contact form, by clicking here, to have one of our friendly staff contact you. Alternatively, click here to book an online appointment (telehealth/video-style), or use our online booking system to make a face-to-face appointment today.