Post surgery means what happens after surgery. Post surgery recovery can be painful and slow as the healing process takes over. Heal faster after surgery using these 10 tips.
10. Post surgery recovery tip – Get your affairs in order
- Set up an advanced healthcare directive, a healthcare power of attorney or a healthcare proxy. These legal documents protect your wishes in case something goes wrong.
- Shop for foods that are easy to digest and nourishing. Consider following a highly restricted, low-carb vegan diet for the first 1-3 days after surgery because ketosis reduces nausea.
- Cut out cane sugar, alcohol, and anything made with flour (i.e., pasta, macaroni, cake, pie, etc..). These substances are pro-inflammatory, increase swelling, and slow down recovery. Avoid them for the duration of recovery, if not forever.
- Wash or buy super comfy lounge clothes to wear during recovery, such as a soft set of bamboo lounge pants and shirt.
- Wash the bed sheets and towels.
Before surgery, do as much as possible to get ready to be down for 2-6 weeks. Getting ready for surgery includes:
9. Post surgery recovery tip – Delegate and arrange for support
Who is going to feed the dog or cat? What about the trash? Who is going to help at work while you are out? Delegate and arrange for support before surgery. Consider asking partners, family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers to help with important tasks. Many people enjoy helping others. Most importantly, tearing stitches from lifting a heavy bag of pet food just isn’t worth it.
8. Post surgery recovery tip – Take anti-nausea medication
Post surgery recovery starts in the recovery room of the hospital or surgery center. Typically, people receive anti-nausea medication called ondansetron (brand Zofran) only after nausea appears. Unless you are 100% sure that you never feel nausea after anesthesia, do not risk it.
Vomiting is bad any time. Vomiting with fresh surgical wounds is truly awful. Worse, nausea slows recovery by 3-7 days (or more) because the body does not receive the nutrition it needs to heal. Key nutrients for healing include: B and C vitamins, choline, fiber, magnesium, polyunsaturated fat, and protein.
Speak to the anesthesiologist before surgery and share concerns. Ask about receiving an injectable dose of ondansetron as soon as you wake up in the recovery room. Ondanestron is injectable, and therefore, avoids the stomach altogether. Do not leave the recovery room until nausea is under control. Wait until water and an easy food, like applesauce, stay down.
Furthermore, talk to your surgeon about a prescription of ondanestron that will last at least one week after surgery. Ask her if you can take the medicine before each meal to prevent nausea. The typical dose is 4 or 8 mg. If she says okay, fill the prescription before surgery and set it on your nightstand.
7. Post surgery recovery tip – Ask for help
Some things are easier if we do them ourselves, like lifting a purse or opening a tight lid. Post surgery recovery is about letting go of nearly everything so the body can heal faster and not suffer set backs. Instead, ask a friend to open the lid and carry the purse. Depending on the type of surgery, people need help bathing, showering, or getting dressed. Ask friends or partners you fully trust for help with sensitive tasks.
6. Post surgery recovery tip – Celebrate recovery milestones
Post surgery recovery is disorienting because it separates people from regular routines. Also, it involves dealing with physical pain and discomfort. Feelings of frustration, sadness, loneliness, or depression frequently arise. Boost your mood by acknowledging all of the good work you are doing to support the body. Celebrate recovery milestones.
After one week of post surgery recovery, the pain is down. Sleep improves. Eating improves. Celebrate with a special meal of wild-caught salmon and homemade soup. Nourish and honor the body for all of the hard work it is doing.
Getting stitches out
Stitches typically come out 2-3 weeks after surgery. Celebrate this milestone by investing in a quality anti-scar cream, such as BioCorneum Scar Treatment SPF 30. Massage the scream twice a day into the scars to break up scar tissue. Above all, enjoy the amazing process of skin knitting itself back together.
My Picks for Scar Treatment:
At one month post surgery, it is time to get out of the house. Plan an easy getaway for the day or overnight. Time in nature or visiting dear friends feels very nourishing.
Likewise, after three months of recovery, it is time to getaway and savor this major milestone. Plan a mini-vacation somewhere that speaks to the heart. A few days at a resort on Maui is always great!
Graduating from physical therapy
Go for a walk, swim, or hike. Enjoy moving the body. Recognize and honor the progress. Things may not be fully healed yet, but the heavy lifting is over. Good job!
5. Post surgery recovery tip – Let the body and mind rest
Most people have busy lives. Work that involves a lot of thinking means the brain uses a lot of energy. Throttle back thinking and movement during recovery. Instead, meditate. Enjoy time in nature. Read uplifting books. Talk to a dear friend. Listen to soothing music, like Maui’s own Jeff Peterson on slack key guitar. Let the body have all the energy to heal normally spent on being busy.
Furthermore, practicing present moment awareness (or mindfulness), allows the mind to quiet and calm. Zen master Thich Naht Hahn offers a straightforward method tailored to Western people. He teaches us How To Relax to allow our bodies and minds to heal.
4. Post surgery recovery tip – Stay ahead of the pain
Play it safe and take pain medications as directed. Anesthesia usually wears off 4-6 hours after surgery, which is not the time to fill the prescription. Fill prescriptions before surgery and set the pain medicines on the nightstand, along with a bottle of water.
Talk with the surgeon about any concerns about addiction. Non-addictive pain medications include naproxen and ibuprofen, both of which are available in prescription strength and reduce inflammation. These work synergistically with gabapentin, a medicine that treats nerve pain. Pain medications do not have to be addictive.
Take pain medications that include anti-inflammatory action as directed for at least 3 days, even if you feel okay. Then if you really do not need them, taper off. Risking a pain spike is not worth it. Pain spikes increase stress chemicals in the body and cause inflammation–exactly what the body is already suffering.
3. Post surgery recovery tip – Do the physical therapy
A good physical therapist will help you find ways to heal faster and restore range of motion and strength. Most surgeons recommend starting physical therapy 3-5 days post surgery before scar tissue has time to build up. Therefore, ask your surgeon for a prescription for PT. Line up the weekly appointments before you go under the knife.
One caution: physical therapy can be tedious, receptive and boring. That said, the benefits are worth doing it to the letter. Katherine Milkman, Ph.D., professor at that Wharton School at Penn, developed a strategy to improve motivation called temptation bundling. The idea is to tie two activities together. Connect an activity that you want to do with the activity you need to do, but avoid. For example, allow yourself to listen to that beloved podcast only while riding the stationary bike.
2. Post surgery recovery tip – Ice, ice baby
Remember that Vanilla Ice song from the 80’s? The first 20 seconds of the song says it all. Ice controls pain and reduces swelling better than anything.
- Ice for 10 minutes every hour for the first three days. Ice through the night to control pain. Add light compression on day two or three.
- Next, reduce ice to 10 minutes every 2-3 hours for the following few weeks.
- Finally, ice as only needed to control pain, including after physical therapy sessions or any irritating activity.
The best ice packs are gel or clay. I love large packs that wrap around the whole surgical area. My personal favorite is ThermiPaq Hot/Cold Pain Relief Wrap X-Large (9.5″x16″) Hot/Cold Therapy, Therapeutic Pain Relief for Back, Knees, Ankles & Elbows. They wrap well and hold up well to heavy use. I have three, and I alternate so the packs are always cold.
I keep a cooler at my bedside for the first few days after surgery to store ice packs. Keep the cold packs handy and use them often. Set timers to remind when it is time to ice. Do not wait for pain to spike. Again, stay ahead of the pain.
Pro Tip: Slip the ice pack into a pillow case to protect the skin and give some leverage on wrapping.
Joint surgery–hips, knees, shoulders, or elbows–deserves a special discussion about icing. These areas are difficult to ice because they are curved. Clay or gel packs slide off. Professional athletes use machines with special velcro wraps to ice joints. Game Ready is one example, and it provides compression. Also, these machines work through the night, which controls pain and accelerates healing.
The downside to ice machines is cost. Buying a Game Ready unit outright is expensive. However, if there are multiple joint surgeries ahead, then it may be worth it to invest. Also, it is also possible to rent an ice machine for a few weeks for a fraction of the the purchase price. Ask the surgeon.
1. Post surgery recovery tip – Follow the doctor’s orders
You know your body best. However, your surgeon knows the procedure best. Most importantly, do not second guess her instructions. If she says not to lift anything heavier than a water bottle for four weeks, do not lift. If she says not to put any creams, ointments, or gels on the stitches, stear clear. If she orders physical therapy twice a week for six weeks, do it all. Most surgeons go to great lengths to ensure a great outcome. You have paid handsomely for expert advice. Just take it.
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