Having an operation is a big thing – it can even be life-saving. After any operation, you’ll have a journey from recovery to better health. Regardless of the type of surgery you’ve had, and whether it was elective or emergency, there are some common principles you’ll need to follow. These tips will help give you the best chance of a great recovery and excellent surgical outcome.
Follow your surgeon’s post-operative orders
Your surgeon is an expert in the field. He or she knows exactly what conditions your body needs to heal. This may include things you need to do, like wearing compression stockings or doing breathing exercises. There may also be things you need to avoid, such as driving and heavy lifting.
While these things may feel like a hassle, following them strictly will optimise your chances of a full and complication-free recovery. A bit of short-term frustration is better than dealing with potentially lifelong (and even life-threatening) consequences of not following the doctor’s orders.
Understand tissue healing times
One of the main reasons surgeons have a post-operative protocol is because the body takes time to heal. Healing goes through phases, as tissues initially react to the trauma of surgery with swelling and inflammation. As these issues resolve, injured tissue is removed, and new tissue grows, gradually becoming stronger.
Soft tissue, like ligaments, muscles and tendons, take about six weeks to heal. Bones take around 12 weeks, and nerves can take anywhere from days to many months to recover, depending on the type of injury.
Get adequate rest
Your body uses a lot of energy in the healing process. This, combined with the effects of general anaesthesia and certain medications, means many people feel fatigued after an operation. It’s important to allow your body the rest it needs for optimum recovery.
If your fatigue seems excessive or prolonged, check with your doctor to ensure it doesn’t have another cause that should be treated.
Gradually return to normal activity
As well as rest, your body needs activity for the restorative process. The adage that “movement is medicine” holds true after surgery, provided you go about it sensibly. Movement helps with circulation, lung function and digestion, and helps to prevent many common post-operative complications.
Small amounts more frequently are usually better than doing too much at once. Often, a physiotherapist at the hospital will advise you about appropriate post-operative activity. Consult a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist about progressing your activity program.
Take your prescribed medications
Experiencing pain after surgery is normal, and can make getting active difficult. Because movement is vital, it’s likely you’ll be prescribed something for the pain. Don’t try to be tough and push through without your prescribed meds – you’ll likely have a better outcome when pain is well-managed.
You might also be prescribed medication for other reasons. Your doctor or pharmacist can answer any questions about these. Never cease taking prescribed medication without first seeking advice.
Eat a healthy diet
Another way to optimise healing and avoid post-surgical complications is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Focus on foods that are whole and unprocessed, including lots of vegetables and fruit, lean protein, and whole grains. Certain procedures, especially abdominal surgeries, may require you to follow a special diet afterwards.
Avoid alcohol, because it can interfere with medications and increase the risk of bleeding.
Things to look out for
If you’re unsure about anything after your operation, don’t be afraid to ask your surgeon or GP. Most symptoms after surgery will usually resolve themselves. But there are some warning signs that something more serious may be happening. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, fever, unexplained cough, increased swelling, leg pain, or heat and redness around your wound, consult your doctor without delay.
Once your operation is over, following these few simple strategies should soon have you on the road to recovery. Your body is designed to heal. Work within its limits for the best chance of recovery.