Surgery is one of the most stress-inducing things you might go through in your lifetime, and once it’s over, you’ll feel an incredible sense of relief. But just because the procedure is officially complete doesn’t mean the healing process is over. In fact, it’s just begun! Proper post-operative care is vital to a speedy recovery. When you equip your body with everything it needs to heal, you’ll bounce back faster and feel like yourself in no time. Heed the following post-surgery advice to kick the healing into high gear.
Surgery is a major stress both physically and mentally. Your body will expend a tremendous amount of energy healing. Therefore, it is important to rest afterward. If you push yourself too hard and do not rest, your recovery will take much longer. What does an injured animal in the wild do? It rests.
Elevate Your Legs…Correctly
One of the risks of any surgery is the development of a blood clot in the veins. This is called a deep venous thrombosis or DVT. Surgery puts us at risk for blood clots because we are immobile after surgery, have sustained a physical injury, and our blood is more likely to clot. Physicians know these three risk factors for DVT as “Virchow’s triad” (stasis, injury, hypercoagulability). Leg elevation, if done correctly, will increase blood flow in the veins and lower the risk of blood clots.
Provide Your Body with the Nutrients it Needs
Proper nutrition is paramount to healing. However, knowing what to eat can be challenging, as there are so many different ideas about nutrition. The one thing that all nutrition experts agree upon is that our diet should be loaded with vegetables and fruits. Plant-based foods are loaded with micronutrients and phytonutrients that your body needs to heal. Most people do not realize that plants also provide the perfect amount of protein. Keep in mind that processed food has been stripped of its nutritional value and loaded with sugar, fat, and salt. Your healing body requires protein, vitamins, and minerals; NOT sugar, salt, and red dye no. 2. A great option to get in a lot of fruits and vegetables at one time is to make a smooth with your favorite fruit, veggies, yogurt, and a plant-based milk or water.
It is also important to stay hydrated post-operatively by drinking lots of water. Most importantly, being well-hydrated makes it easier for nutrients to be delivered to your cells. It also lowers your risk of developing blood clots and keeps your bowels and kidneys functioning. Being dehydrated makes it harder for your heart to pump blood with oxygen and nutrients to your cells. Dehydration also makes it harder to get rid of cellular waste products. Keep things flowing smoothly by drinking LOTS of water. If the thought of drinking plain water doesn’t entice you to get in your 8-10 cups a day, try adding a lemon or lime wedge, or even some cucumber for a refreshing yet hydrating alternative to plain water.
Increase Your Activity Slowly
Although it is important to rest after surgery, once you start to feel better, it is time to get moving. Set goals and try to gradually improve on them. Listen to your body. If you overdo it, then back off some and rest. When we are not moving, things shut down. Our joints get stiff. Blood flow slows down. When we are moving, we get our blood flowing and keep our joints moving. However, if at any point you start to develop severe pain in the area in which you had the surgery, cease immediately and call your doctor. The last thing you want to do is complicate your body’s healing process or start physical activity prematurely. Your doctor will let you know when you’re cleared to get moving.
Get Off the Pain Meds
You will likely require pain medications initially. However, keep in mind that these are just for the immediate post-operative period. Try to wean yourself off pain medications as quickly as you can. Too much pain medicine will make you tire, groggy, and keep you immobile. They will also slow down your bowel function, which can become a problem after surgery. Gradually begin tapering your pain medications as soon as you can. If you can, switch to a less intense painkiller such as ibuprofen once you feel your body starting to heal and feel better. Remember that pain medications will help control your pain, but not make it go away completely.
Staying Positive After Surgery
In order to stay positive after surgery, it is important to control your focus. When we focus on the negative after surgery, it is harder to make progress. If we are focused on the pain, we are less likely to get moving. When we focus on all that is positive, our brain and body work to bring that idea to fulfillment. It’s that simple. Stay positive. You will get through this. The operation is behind you. The pain will get a little better each day. You will feel stronger. Focus on the fact that your body has an amazing ability to heal, especially if you follow our six rules listed above. If it helps you, make sure you’re recovering in a place where you’re comfortable, and have friends and family help you with the day-to-day immediately following surgery. Being comfortable and in good company will help you think more positively which will ultimately help your body heal faster.
Chris Dickson, MD
Dr. Chris Dickson is a board-certified vascular surgeon and Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. After observing that patients were often found in ineffective positions after surgery, he developed the Lounge Doctor Leg Rest to help encourage them to practice proper recovery positions post-operatively. Dr. Dickson also recommends the Lounge Doctor for leg discomfort, venous problems, and even lower back pain.