Post-Operative Rehabilitation – Everything You Need To Know

Making a commitment to surgery is not a light decision, but there are some important things you need to know. Your surgeon spends a great deal of time with their assessment and clinical expertise in theatre to repair the tissues. However, the healing doesn’t stop there.

A number of people end up with muscular weakness, adaptive muscular shortening, and changes in posture that will need to be addressed prior to and after surgery. Therefore it is important to consider how you might make a change to optimise your body’s function.

Post-operative rehabilitation with a Physiotherapist is an integral process to optimise recovery. Physiotherapists are qualified to assess and manage your recovery process from day one. Most often, in the hospital, you will be visited by a physiotherapist who will run through your exercises for the first week, and also assist you with any bracing or slings that you may need in accordance to your surgeon’s request.

The initial role of post-operative management is to reduce pain, swelling, inflammation and to minimise bleeding and bruising. Your physiotherapist will also guide you through the best management strategies to achieve this.

Secondly, your Surgeon will specify what you are able to do after your operation and the timeframe in which to complete each task. Your Physiotherapist will liaise closely with your Surgeon to follow protocol and to ensure your recovery is progressing as expected. If there are any concerns with your progress, your Physiotherapist will liaise directly with your Specialist and your GP, to ensure you receive the appropriate follow up in a timely fashion.

There are a usually a range of exercises you will be required to undertake as part of your rehabilitation. Your physiotherapist will run through these with you at a suitable rate for your needs.

Just as there are a numerous factors to consider when deciding whether to go for surgery, there are a number of things to consider during your recovery from surgery.

Despite a Surgeon’s expertise and diligent care, problems with posture, muscle strength and fitness will be unchanged post-surgery, unless a post-operative rehabilitation program targets them.  Muscular weakness, worsening posture, excessive scar tissue and adaptive muscular shortening are all potential negative outcomes that can arise during an unsuccessful or slow recovery.

Physiotherapists are highly qualified to assess you and to guide you through evidence based treatments, techniques and exercises to restore range of motion and strength, manage your scar and assist you to return to optimum function after surgery.

Physiotherapists are routinely recommended by Surgeons to follow up with patients post-operatively.

Many other surgeries can have a faster and more effective recovery using Physiotherapy including joint replacements, shoulder surgery and reconstruction, rotator cuff repair, sub-acromial decompression, wrist surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, spinal surgeries such as discectomy and laminectomy, ankle surgery and general surgeries such as biopsy, mastectomy and thoracic surgery.

Physiotherapists are knowledgeable and focused on providing you the best service possible to ensure a smooth recovery starting day one after surgery. In many cases, a Physiotherapist will visit you in hospital to provide an outline of exercises you should do and help out with how to use any braces or slings the doctors have recommended. During this phase of post-operative recovery, the Physiotherapist will work to reduce pain, swelling, inflammation and bruising as well as minimize any bleeding and commence restoring movement.

The Physiotherapist will work out with you exactly what you’re comfortable and physically able to do following your surgery and plan a schedule for your daily exercises. This will involve close coordination and communication with your Surgeon as well as frequent consultation to ensure your recovery is moving at a steady pace.

There are a broad range of rehabilitative and healing exercises recommended during your recovery which the Physiotherapist will be able to discuss with you at a time suitable to your individual needs. Remember that some exercise programs can only be started a few days or more after surgery in order to let the very first stages of healing occur without disturbing sutures and surgical work.

Physiotherapy techniques are also used to re-learn how to walk, participate in everyday activities and return to work, leisurely activities or sport. It can be a daunting prospect to have to relearn and accommodate to daily tasks, and having a qualified Physiotherapist there to help, encourage and advise you can be an invaluable resource.

One technique adopted very commonly among the profession is Clinical Pilates. This form of rehabilitation focuses on precise movement patterns that enable your body to move in a symmetrical pattern, encouraging normalised muscle recruitment. As previously mentioned, a large number of people will have soft tissue changes, altered posture etc., as a result of their injury or condition. Clinical Pilates can help you to restore normal movement patterns, movement and muscle control throughout the body.

Whether it is restoring movement and control on a Clinical Pilates Reformer or Trapeze Table post total knee replacement or ankle surgery, or retraining your core muscles after back surgery, exercising in a safe environment with the instruction of a Physiotherapist is highly beneficial.

Choosing Physiotherapy is a wise choice for those undergoing surgery. A Physiotherapist will provide the opportunity to emerge from your post-surgery recovery feeling stronger and better than ever before. Please contact us for more information and to discuss if working with one of our Physiotherapists is right for you.  

About The Author: Sophie Halsall-McLennan is Physiotherapist from Australia who has a special interest in hand therapy and is the owner of Fresh Start Physiotherapy. She has a Bachelor of Physiotherapy from Charles Sturt Physiotherapy, and over 12 years of clinical experience as a Physiotherapist and is registered with AHPRA. She is also a Lecturer at Deakin University.