Consumer Reports—July 1, 2013
If you’re scheduled for surgery, your main question is likely to be, “How long before I can get back to my regular life?” As you might expect, the answer depends in part on what type of operation you’re having and how healthy you are going in. But much of it also depends on you.
The following steps can help you improve your chances of a speedy recovery and reduce the risk of complications that can leave you sidelined longer than you intended.
5. Don't tough out pain
It may set back your recovery, warns Alejandro Gonzalez Della Valle, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery. After knee replacement, for example, “it is important that patients take the prescribed pain killers,” he says. “Good pain control allows them to rehabilitate faster and develop range of motion.” In contrast, those who are reluctant to take painkillers generally don’t do enough physical therapy, which can lead the knee to heal with thick scar tissue that limits range of motion, Gonzalez Della Valle says.
8. Get moving, but carefully
You’ll probably be made to walk as soon after surgery as possible (it prevents blood clots and helps get your bowels moving again), but ask if there are physical restrictions you need to follow once you go home. Those can vary depending on what type of surgery you had. For instance, “Patients who bend over to tie their shoelaces too soon after a hip replacement will damage muscles, tendons, and ligaments that were carefully repaired and sutured,” Gonzalez Della Valle says. In turn, that damage can lead to pain or dislocation.
People with an incision on their upper body must be careful about lifting and other arm motions that could stress it. Patients recovering from open-heart surgery, for example, have to learn to get out of chairs without using their hands to avoid straining the breastbone, which was cut in half during surgery.
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