Prehabilitation–How Does It Help Post-op Recovery?

Physical therapy is a well-known term. Many of us have been through it. We hear about it and know it’s necessary to help in the recovery of injuries post-surgery.

A term that may not be as familiar is prehabilitation, which is exercising before surgery so there’s less weakness to correct after the surgery.

Prehabilitation is most common for orthopedic surgeries; however, it’s sometimes recommended for patients who have to undergo chemotherapy as well.


A Patient’s Story

One of my patients, Shirley Goodman, lives a very active lifestyle. At 72-years old she enjoys traveling the world and outdoor activities such as hiking, biking and scuba diving. After a trip to Cuba, Shirley was experiencing troubles with her knee and needed a knee replacement fast.

Shirley traveled from Seattle to Aurora Medical Center in Summit for her operation. Leading up to her surgery, I recommended she prehabilitate her knee. This consisted of her exercising on the elliptical machine each day to strengthen her knee.

Post-surgery, she completed her physical therapy in five weeks, so we let her return to Seattle. She has returned to downhill skiing and dancing. She even traveled to New Zealand and Australia within six months of her surgery. 

“You need to be active before the surgery,” she said. “Even though I was having pain, I still did the elliptical. I also did a lot of work in therapy, and it paid off. Without it, I’d be almost crippled.”


Benefits of Prehabilitation

Prehabilitation has been shown to reduce recovery time and complications after surgery. The body part that requires surgery will often experience a loss of strength and range of mobility. Prehabilitation aims to strengthen the body part so it’s ready for physical therapy.

Patients also report less anxiety before surgery when they have participated in p rehabilitation.


Where to Begin

Discuss with your health care professional when it’s best to start prehabilitation. We generally recommend exercising a minimum of 30 minutes a day, targeting the specific body part undergoing the procedure.

Talk to your health care provider or physical therapist to discuss what exercises would be most beneficial to prepare for surgery.

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Meet the Author

Gerard G. Adler, MD is an orthopedics surgeon at the Aurora Wilkinson Medical Clinic in Summit, WI.

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The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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