Post-surgery recovery — how quickly can I get back to my regular life?
Whether you need a major surgery or a minor procedure, you are likely wondering what your postsurgery recovery will look like. Although each surgery is different, your medical provider may work with rehabilitation specialists and other clinicians to help you get back on your feet and back to your daily activities.
Whether you're having an outpatient procedure and going home the same day or having an inpatient surgery that requires a hospital stay, your medical team will follow important postsurgical steps immediately after your operation.
Outpatient surgery: When your procedure is over, your surgeon will meet with your friend or family member to discuss how the procedure went. During this time you will be recovering in a separate room and closely monitored. Depending on the type of anesthesia you received, your recovery time could be anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. Once your care team feels you are ready, you'll be moved to another room where you can visit with your friends and/or family.
Inpatient surgery: If you need to stay in the hospital for a day or more after your operation, first you will be moved to a recovery unit to be monitored. Your nurses will make sure your surgical site heals well and address any pain you may experience. Your care team will also take steps to prevent pneumonia and other issues that can arise after surgery, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition.
It's time to go home
Before you are discharged and ready to go home, your provider will give you instructions for recovering at home and addressing postsurgical concerns, including:
- Wound care: If you have a bandage at the incision site, your provider will show you how to change the dressing and clean the wound to prevent infection.
- Activity restrictions: You might need to avoid certain types of exercise and activities that require you to bend, twist, or lift heavy objects.
- Pain management: Your provider may prescribe pain medication to help with postsurgical pain and stiffness.
- Blood clot prevention: Some types of surgery can increase your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Your surgery team will give you instructions on how to prevent blood clots and may put you on blood-thinning medication.
If you have a fever or any signs of infection at the incision site, contact your healthcare provider right away.
Your recovery process depends on the type of surgery you have and other factors, such as your age and overall health. In general, open surgeries have a longer recovery time than minimally invasive procedures. Your provider may also create a rehabilitation plan to help you recover safely. This may include:
- Physical therapy: After surgery, you may need to go to physical therapy to help you regain muscle strength, improve your flexibility, and maintain or increase your range of motion. For example, if you've had a total knee replacement, you'll likely see a physical therapist for several weeks after surgery. They'll also give you stretches and exercises to do at home.
- Occupational therapy: Some patients see an occupational therapist after surgery. Although there's some overlap with physical therapy, occupational therapy focuses more on helping you stay independent and perform your usual activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing, preparing meals, cleaning, and caring for pets.
- Speech therapy: If you've had head or neck surgery, you may need speech therapy afterward. A speech-language pathologist can work with you to help you regain your ability to talk and swallow or adapt to changes you may need to make after surgery.
Your rehab plan will be customized to your needs. For example, patients recovering from heart surgery may need cardiac rehabilitation to help them stay healthy.
No two patients are alike. In general, taking care of your physical and mental health after surgery will help you recover. Keep these recommendations in mind:
- Sleep: Make sure you're getting plenty of rest each night to help with the healing process. Surgery can take a toll on your body, so you may find you need extra rest in the first few days after your procedure, especially if you've had anesthesia which can make you feel tired.
- Hydration: Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated after surgery. Your provider may suggest avoiding caffeine or sugary drinks.
- Nutrition: Eating a healthy diet is important during your recovery. Focus on nutrient-dense foods high in protein, iron, zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Your provider may refer you to a registered dietitian after surgery, especially if you have an underlying condition, such as diabetes.
- Social support: It's OK to ask for help from your loved ones after surgery. You may need to rely on family and friends for help around the house or a ride to an appointment. Even something as small as a phone call or visit can raise your spirits and help you stay positive as you recover.