• Stride Strong Physical Therapy | Portland OR
  • Stride Strong Physical Therapy | Portland OR
  • Stride Strong Physical Therapy | Portland OR
  • Stride Strong Physical Therapy | Portland OR
  • Stride Strong Physical Therapy | Portland OR
  • Stride Strong Physical Therapy | Portland OR

A Surgeon’s Guide to Post-Operative Physical Therapy

Physical rehab plays a significant role when anyone goes through surgery as serious as open-heart, hip, or knee replacement. Many make the mistake of brushing off this advice only to suffer later. Regular physical activity is vital for building strength, improving blood circulation, and increasing range of movement, all of which play a massive role in recovery.

Usually, the surgeons put their patients in touch with the physical therapist after the surgery and prescribe a list of exercises to do. Physical Therapists may utilize many advanced tools such as Isokinetics, elastic wraps, foam rollers, exercise balls, etc. to get you back in shape. Not to mention their years of experience in treating surgery patients.

You have to follow through their advice with patience and dedication. This guide will touch upon the importance of cardiovascular exercises post-surgery, how to improve circulation, and strength training to return to regular life.

Cardiovascular exercises

To improve circulation after a prolonged surgery, your surgeon or in-patient physical therapists may recommend you perform low level functional activities such as walking. Not only will you gain strength to be able to tolerate household distances such as going to the bathroom, bathing, cooking, but the blood circulation effects of cardiovascular activities are healthy for healing tissue.

Your surgeon may also recommend you light range of motion activities. Be sure to check in with them before being discharged from inpatient care, as their instructions are important to get you started on the right foot. If you know that will be under the influence of painkillers, it is best to have a trusted family member take this information for you or getting written information from your surgical team.

Higher level aerobics is also good, but only under the supervision of a trained physical therapist. The goal is to get enough activity going to regain strength and prevent blood clot, without putting too much stress on your joints.

You may even resume regular sexual activity after getting clearance from the doctor. But be careful – sex can prove to be a stressor for your heart and certain positions may compromise healing of your surgery. So, it’s likely you’ll need to get a little more creative with the poses to be safe.

Improving circulation

Patients who have undergone surgery are at high risk for developing circulatory problems like hypovolemic shock due to blood and fluid loss. Lengthy procedures that need complete bed rest post-operatively put the patient at risk of experiencing clotting of blood in the legs because blood mostly tends to pool in our lower extremities.

There are quite a few ways to combat blood clot in the lower extremities, such as the legs. Your physical therapists may use elastic wraps or compression hose to prevent pooling of blood that could break off and make their way towards the lungs.

The hose or wraps will be applied to your lower legs, starting from the toes to the groin before the surgery and will be left in place until you’re able to walk around. This simple procedure can prevent the consequences of DVT (deep vein thrombosis), which is life-threatening.

One of the more simple ways to improve circulation happens to be by working the muscles that aid in making blood flow back to our heart. Post-surgery, you’ll be encouraged to move your legs in bed as soon as the effects of anesthesia subside.

Your physical therapist will also ask you to avoid rubbing legs, standing still, crossing legs, or sitting for a long duration because all of those poses might restrict blood flow and may go against surgical precautions, especially for total hip replacements.

Those who are undergoing surgical procedures and those who will remain in bed post-operatively will also get anticoagulants such as heparin as it prevents blood clot. Which treatment you receive and how will depend on what your surgeon deems fit.

Strength training

Laughter – which not only brings feel-good endorphins but also works the abdominals and physical exercise are the closest things that come to a miracle drug. Strength training is undoubtedly one of the best kinds of exercise, which unfortunately goes unacknowledged sometimes.

Strength training is the best method to build muscle and regain lost strength; it is often the first and most logical step, in the progression of rehabilitative therapy. You can perform strength training safely post-operation with the help of machines or prescribed PT exercises that do not aggravate existing injuries. Your physical therapist should be going over home exercises that are safe for you to do on your first appointment.

Strength training in physical therapy should be in conjunction with gaining range of motion so that the recovering body part can gain both muscle hypertrophy and freedom of movement. Your physical therapist might ask you to lift light weights or even lift a limb against the force of gravity. The more you train, the more you are likely to build up resistance to pain tolerance and once again regain full movement.

For example, people who have undergone knee replacement surgery are often advised to perform free weight exercises like straight leg raises, bed supported knee bends, quadricep sets, etc. All these exercises pit the patient’s weak limb against gravity, making it gain strength and control in the process.

The result is in your hands

Ask any surgeon, and they’ll tell you that the success of post-surgery rehab is heavily dependent on how you follow their advice. The same goes with physical therapy as well. For example, two patients undergo rotator cuff repair surgery; one patient regularly attends their appointments and the other skips the physical therapy sessions after visiting once or twice.

Who do you think will recover quicker? The answer is obvious! Because our bones, muscles, and soft tissue have to be challenged and progressed in a calculated manner to enhance healing, it is crucial that you attend physical therapy diligently.

Physical Therapy Portland OR
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Alice Holland, DPT
Doctor of Physical Therapy, Director at Stride Strong Physical Therapy
Alice earned her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from USC in 2007, and have practiced Physical Therapy for 12+ years in the Outpatient Orthopedic Setting. Certified in ASTYM, she also has been a featured expert on Physical Therapy on numerous publications including health.com, healthline.com and yahoo.com.