Making the decision to undergo surgery can be a daunting one. Physical therapists (PTs) and occupational therapists (OTs) can help with the process in many different ways and will play a huge role in your preparation and recovery.
You may have already worked with a PT prior to the decision to have surgery. Surgeons frequently recommend PT to help with flexibility, strength, and overall conditioning. Physical therapy can also help reduce pain and improve function before surgery.
In my experience, patients who have spent time researching their surgery and the post-operative course of rehabilitation tend to do well. Those patients who have been able to do some therapy prior to surgery (“prehab”) seem to have less fear and have a good plan for their recovery.
Talking to a PT or OT prior to the surgery is always a good idea, not just for the exercise planning, but they can talk to you about safety in your home, returning to work, riding in a car, and returning to an exercise regime. They can also recommend any special equipment that may help with your recovery.
When preparing for your surgery you should take a look around your home. You may return home using a cane, crutches, or a walker. If you are having shoulder surgery, you may have a bulky brace to wear at home. Look for things that may get caught on the assistive devices such as loose area rugs and remove them if possible. Move things in your kitchen so that they are easy to reach without using a stool. Set up a “recovery zone” at home, remember the therapy is crucial to your successful outcome, but so is therapeutic rest. Some patients choose to make a bedroom on the first level of their home so that they do not need to climb stairs frequently during the day. This is not always necessary, but having a comfortable area to sit, rest, use ice is important. It is rare to spend a lot of time in bed after surgery; in fact, it is not good for you!
When you are in the hospital, your therapy may begin on the day of surgery or the morning after. The therapist will teach you the best techniques for getting in and out of bed, climbing stairs, and for walking with an assistive device. They will teach you the exercises that your surgeon has prescribed and review any precautions you may have. The occupational therapist will also demonstrate and educate you on some “activities of daily living” such as dressing, getting into a car, and using the bathroom. If you have surgery on your upper extremity (shoulder, arm etc.), the OT or PT will also review exercises for your upper body.
If you’re reading this blog, then I can assume you are thoroughly researching your surgery or looking at what options you might have before and after. I would recommend you add talking to a PT or OT as part of your plan. They really will make a big difference!
Matthew Titmuss is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and the Director of Acute Care Orthopedic Rehabilitation at Hospital for Special Surgery.