If you have surgery in your future, you may be interested in how to recover faster, get back to work faster, or even get back to the gym faster. Your “need for speed” may be deep, but remember that the quality of your recovery is also important.
A good place to start your recovery journey is with your discharge instructions. Read them carefully, make sure you understand every word, and call your healthcare provider if you have any questions.
In the meantime, 10 post-op tips should help you make sure you heal quickly and properly.
1. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions
If you don’t hear this reminder, you probably won’t get very far and may recur. But healthcare providers learn so much from postoperative patients that they follow instructions they like and ignore the rest. This is the wrong response, because directives always have a reason.
Some rules may limit your style, such as being told not to bathe, swim, or lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for the first few weeks after surgery. Rather than digging in and contradicting your doctor, call and ask for the reasoning behind the instructions.
How long does it take to recover from surgery?
2. Keep your follow-up appointments
Many patients did not comply with all follow-up appointments. If you are feeling well and the wound is healing well, an appointment may seem like an unnecessary expense and a waste of time. but it is not the truth.
Your healthcare provider will want to know how you are feeling and whether your incision is healing well, but they may also be looking for other things you may not know about, such as signs of infection. Your medication may also be adjusted, so be sure: don’t skip your follow-up appointment.
Here are tips on how to prepare for your visit
3. Prevent infection
Infection prevention is critical to getting an excellent outcome from your surgery. Washing your hands before touching an incision is one of the easiest and most important things you can do during recovery.
Surgical site infections are rare and usually occur within 30 days of surgery. Still, it’s worth asking your doctor what you can do to get your skin to do its job of stopping the infection.
7 Best Ways to Prevent Post-Surgical Infections
4. Check your incision
Looking at your incisions may not be your favorite thing to do, but it is important that you take a close look at your incisions several times a day. Are the cutouts pink or red? Is there any wound drainage, and if so, what color? Are the stitches or staples intact?
These questions are very important, and examining your incision will help you determine if your surgical site continues to heal or if it has become infected.
signs of infection after surgery
5. Caring for your incision the right way
Many people go too far in trying to keep the incision clean. They want to scrub it and remove any scabs that have formed around it. Or they want to use alcohol or peroxide to keep the area free of bacteria. Unless your surgeon specifically instructs you, gentle washing with soap and water is all the care you need for your incision.
This may not be aesthetically pleasing, but scabbing around the surgical staple is normal. Removing them may slow the healing process. Likewise, soaking the incision can be harmful because it weakens the incision line.
Many surgeons recommend showering rather than bathing after surgery, and swimming is often prohibited in the early stages of recovery. Consult your surgeon for special instructions.
Learn how to care for your incision after surgery
6. Eat a healthy diet
Many people lose their appetite after surgery. They may feel nauseated, constipated, or just not hungry. But staying hydrated and eating a healthy diet after surgery can help promote healing, reduce common complications, and help you get rid of the unwanted side effects of anesthesia.
You may need help adjusting your diet, so don’t be shy to ask for help. Before you regain your appetite, your provider may have many practical ideas for you.
Eating Means Healing
It’s hard to heal if your body doesn’t have the fuel it needs to get better.
7. Be careful with coughing and sneezing
Who knew the way you’ve been coughing and sneezing your whole life isn’t the “right way” after some surgery? It turns out that if you have an abdominal incision, it can cause serious damage to your incision if you cough or sneeze the wrong way.
A new incision is not very secure, and a violent sneeze can cause a new surgical incision to open. Supporting the incision is critical, which means putting pressure on the area when you cough or sneeze. You can do this with your hands or by covering the area with a pillow.
Gentle pressure will help keep the stitches intact. With practice, bracing becomes easier; it may even become second nature when you feel a cough.
How to Cough Properly After Surgery
8. Know when to go to the emergency room
Your post-op instructions should state when to seek emergency care. But in general, call your healthcare provider if you are bleeding or having trouble breathing, or if you are having trouble keeping your food or water down, have trouble urinating, or have obvious signs of infection.
If you can’t reach your surgeon, your primary care healthcare provider or emergency room should be your next stop. It’s best to be cautious when you’re recovering from surgery.
How much pain can I take after surgery?
9. Control your pain
Pain control after surgery is critical. Some patients resist the idea, either because they fear they will become addicted, because they see medication as a sign of weakness, or because they don’t like how they feel after taking their prescribed medication.
If you understand, look at it this way: if you cough too hard, you put yourself at risk of pneumonia. If you walk in excessive pain, you are at risk for blood clots and pneumonia. Keeping your pain at a tolerable level (no pain might be an unreasonable goal) will keep your recovery process going.
Two other tips may help: Flush pain relievers with plenty of fluids; medications can cause dehydration and constipation, and water promotes digestion. And take the medicine regularly as prescribed. You’ll get ahead of the pain (rather than “chasing” it), and you’ll probably sleep better too. Sleep promotes healing.
Practical ways to reduce pain after surgery
10. Get moving
Walking after surgery is one of the most important things you can do for recovery. A quick walk around your home every one or two hours can help prevent serious complications such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) (blood clots) and pneumonia.
Walking is a gentle way to resume physical activity. It can also expedite your return to all normal activities.
Following your healthcare provider’s postoperative instructions and keeping your follow-up medical appointments is critical to your recovery from surgery. Other steps are also important, such as caring for the incision, eating properly to restore strength, and managing pain.
Many people don’t follow their post-op instructions — and then wonder why they’re taking so long to recover. Your body takes time to heal and will not tolerate being rushed. Skipping important steps doesn’t help either. Remember, the success of your recovery will largely depend on how well you follow your postoperative instructions.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long will postoperative fatigue last?
It can vary. Anesthesia can cause dizziness for about 24 hours after surgery. Major surgeries that require hospitalization can cause fatigue longer than minor outpatient surgeries. Ask your doctor to be sure.
How long does nausea last after surgery?
Nausea and vomiting may occur hours or even days after anesthesia. If you experience nausea or vomiting, tell your healthcare provider so they can help you with it.