Understand the Procedure
This may seem like common sense, but we have a lot of patients who come in and do not know the details of their surgery. Depending on what surgery you have, there will be different precautions, weight-bearing statuses, and activities to avoid, so this becomes important.
Know When to Start PT
This is a key component to recovery as early movement can be vital to your rehabilitation process. For example, many knee surgeries require you to come in the next day after surgery. The patients that do not come in for a week are often in more pain, take longer to recover range of motion, and are seen for more visits.
Make a List of Questions for the Surgeon before Surgery
Sit down before surgery and create a list of questions you may have about the surgery or what to expect after surgery. Oftentimes we think of questions in our heads, but once we get to the surgical center the visit can be overwhelming and we forget. Setting up expectations and timeline of recovery will allow you to have the proper mindset on return to activities and life.
Bring a Friend / Family Member
Obviously you will need a ride to/from the surgery, but bring someone who would be good at advocating for you. Make sure they are with you after the surgery, so they can ask details about the surgery. Sometimes there are surprises due to abnormalities or challenges with the structural findings once the surgeon is carrying out the procedure.
Additional measures may be taken and the surgeon might have specific instructions that you may not have had in your pre-operative guidelines. Taking notes when discussing the post-operative care and status of how the surgery went will help you navigate the healing process from the start. Medical lingo is a different language and there are research studies that show how little information we retain once we leave the hospital, despite it making sense when we are there.
Understand How and When to Change Bandages and Look for Infections
Unfortunately 2-5% of surgeries result in an infection. Many precautions can be taken to help minimize your risk. Infections most commonly happen within the first 3 days, but can happen anytime while the wound is still open. Your incision will typically heal within 3-4 weeks, but everyone is different, so it may take longer.
Symptoms of infection:
- Redness or swelling around the incision site. Typically the borders will increase as the infection gets worse. You can trace a line around the red borders and see if the redness spreads beyond that.
- Hot/warm area
- Yellow or cloudy drainage from the incision
- Fever or feeling sick
Tips to help prevent infections:
- Stop smoking – this significantly increases your risk
- Understand if you are at higher risk
- If you are immunocompromised, take steroids, have diabetes, have had past infections, or have a longer surgery you are more at risk to develop an infection.
- Maintain the sterile dressing the doctor applied at the hospital for the prescribed amount of time (typically 48 hours)
- Take preventative antibiotics if they were prescribed by your MD. Some do not prescribe them.
Find and Talk to Your PT before Surgery
Your therapist will understand your procedure and know what to work on immediately after surgery. The sooner you get started, the easier your rehab will be! Oftentimes, surgeons will want their patient’s to have PT before the surgery to help improve the outcome. The better mobility and strength you have before surgery, the better you will do after.
Know What is Normal Pain and What is Not Normal Pain
Pain is normal after surgery, but some pain is not normal. The most concerning pain is calf pain. If you have calf pain, associated with redness or warmth at rest this may be indicative of a blood clot. It is important to perform ankle pumps after surgery to help prevent blood clots. Make sure you have appropriate pain medication for after surgery as well. If you are unable to participate in PT because of high levels of pain, this is setting you back in your rehab and returning to normal activities.