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Why You Should Undergo Prehabilitation Before Your Surgery

Dec 29, 2022

by Renee Lambeth, PTA | Arrowhead Location

While surgery may be necessary to treat a medical condition, it can take a toll on your body. Even if everything goes according to plan, you can experience pain, joint stiffness, and muscle weakness. There is also the risk of more severe complications. 

Postoperative rehabilitation is typically recommended to help return you to your pre-surgical condition more quickly. Surgical prehabilitation is a way to improve your physical fitness before surgery to reduce the risk of complications and improve the chances for a better outcome. 

Prehab is intended to boost your physical fitness so that your body is healthier when you go into surgery. The end goal is an easier recovery and a higher likelihood of full functionality.

What Does a Prehabilitation Program Involve?

The general goal of prehabilitation is to improve your mental outlook and physical stamina before the procedure. To reach those goals, the approach taken toward prehabilitation may include the following: 

  • Training exercises
  • Improving cardiovascular health and muscle tone through physical activity
  • Improving diet
  • Modifying lifestyle habits, e.g., reduced alcohol consumption and smoking cessation

Prehabilitation may also involve interventions that typically only occur following the procedure. For example, you may start learning strengthening exercises that you will need during your recovery or receive training on using assistive devices, such as crutches or a walker.

Physical Therapist using scraping tool to promote healing.

Research shows that certain types of exercises are particularly effective at increasing functional capacity before surgery: 

  • Brisk walking
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • High-intensity interval training
  • Jogging
  • Joint- or muscle-specific training
  • Weightlifting

Like every other physical therapy program, each prehabilitation program is individualized to the patient’s specific needs. For example, if your physical fitness level is low, to begin with, your therapist will perform a program consisting of exercises that are within your ability to function. If your baseline fitness level is higher, your therapist may design a more challenging prehabilitation program. 

Common Conditions of Prehab Cases

  • ACL & MCL reconstruction
  • Meniscectomy & meniscal repair
  • Total knee arthroplasty
  • Total hip arthroplasty
  • Total shoulder arthroplasty
  • Rotator cuff repair
  • Spinal surgery
  • Hand & wrist

“Prehab before surgery can decrease pain, reduce inflammation, improve blood flow in the area, strengthen muscles supporting the joint, and allow a greater range of motion. This provides the optimal environment for the body region to heal following surgery. The better the body region is functioning prior to surgery, the stronger and faster your recovery is likely to be after the operation. This leads to improved patient outcomes and satisfaction.” Ted Carter, PT, DPT, OCS, TPS, CSCS, Cert. TDN

Preparing the Body by Increasing Range of Motion

In prehab, patients are given various exercises that will improve function. Some exercises will increase the range of motion. By increasing the joint range of motion prior to a surgical procedure, the restricted capsule of a joint becomes more tolerant of movement, and the surrounding tissues will lengthen, allowing the joint to move more freely. When the body is prepared prior to surgery to move as it should, it will be more prepared for movement once the procedure has been performed. Strength and flexibility are also emphasized during prehabilitation. After surgery, muscle mass and function are lost. When patients perform exercises that improve function prior to having surgery, their ability to regain that function is typically more remarkable after the procedure.

Typically, prehab can range anywhere from two to six weeks and may even be requested by your surgeon. Depending on the patient’s availability and needs, a home exercise program may be prescribed after exercises are established, and you can perform them correctly. Performing exercises before the surgical procedure will not only improve outcomes, and it can drastically improve a patient’s pain during the healing progress.

Physical Therapist working on patients' shoulder.

Will I Still Need Rehabilitation After Surgery?

Prehabilitation does not remove the need for rehab following your procedure. However, it may decrease the amount of time you have to stay in rehab. 

Prehab was initially developed to improve outcomes for patients undergoing orthopedic surgery. Over time, it was discovered that it had positive implications for people undergoing other types of procedures too. While there is no guarantee that people who undergo surgical prehabilitation will not experience any complications during surgery, it may help to overcome any difficulties that one may experience when the body is healthier and more fit.

The Rising Cost of Healthcare

The very thought of having surgery can be terrifying. With the rising cost of healthcare, many of us face high deductibles and hefty co-payments. When we multiply this cost over multiple visits, it can add up and force some of us to deal with the daily pain until the function is lost. What if there was a way to shorten your therapy duration? What if, by performing what is known as prehabilitation, you could ease the entire process and improve your outcomes after and even before surgery?

Carlos consults with direct access patient regarding her leg.

Prehabilitation, or prehab, offers several benefits for patients who are faced with injuries and planning to have a surgical procedure. It is a chance to regain control and improve your quality of life. According to several studies, people who participate in prehab can shorten hospital stays, decrease overall rehabilitation duration, and improve outcomes. In addition to these benefits, prehab can also have emotional benefits: patients will enhance their understanding and knowledge of what to anticipate after their surgery is performed.

If you are prepping for an upcoming surgery and interested in a prehabilitation program, don’t hesitate to request a free injury assessment or schedule an appointment at one of our locations in the Phoenix area. 

Prehab before surgery is similar to rehab for injuries; a physical therapist walks you through an individualized exercise program designed to help strengthen and heal. Prehab gives you the ability to improve your post-surgical outcomes and decrease your overall time spent in therapy. Make an appointment to find out how we can help ease the stress and worry you might have about an upcoming procedure.

Renee Lambeth

by Renee Lambeth
PTA | Arrowhead Location

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