Exercising After Surgery: Communicating Its Benefit to Patients

Your patient has just had surgery. So far, his journey has been full of appointments, preparations, and anxiety. It’s natural that the absolute last thing he feels like doing is getting out of bed, much less pushing his body.

Yet, it’s been proven that exercise after surgery benefits patients and should be started as soon as possible after some surgical procedures, according to an April 2014 study in Current Opinion in Anesthesiology.

Still, no matter how much you urge and follow-up, the patient is still convinced that bed rest is the best way to recover. What they need most is what they want to do least.

Your goal now is to make the case that this is about more than just recovery.

“What we’re trying to do is help people enhance their health and quality of life,” explains Physical Therapist Adam Wille, MSPT, at Midwest-based Athletico Physical Therapy, an AlterG client. “One step along the way is obviously getting them back to moving.”

Here are things to keep in mind to convince your patients of the importance of exercise after surgery, and get them to stick to it.

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Post-Surgery Exercise Benefits

  • After vascular surgery: Prevents blood clots
  • After hip surgery: Prevents blood clots, restores muscle strength, and improves hip motion
  • After ankle surgery: Improves strength and flexibility

Sources: American Academy of Orthopedics, American College of Surgeons

Clarify Your Role In Their Recovery

Remind your patients that their physical therapy isn’t just about injury rehabilitation. It’s also about injury prevention, so they don’t wind up back in the hospital.

Patients may also not realize that physical therapists are specially trained to consider surgery and current fitness levels to design exercises.

“We try to educate people on the proper motion, strength, and mechanics while they’re doing all these daily activities. That’s the first step,” Adam says. “And you’re also trying to coach them on what returning to activity looks like, and what is appropriate for them.”

Explain to your patients that this directed exercise is important for their safety as well as a return to function.

Explain That The Approach Is Tailor-Made

In addition to reminding patients that exercise is important after surgery, help them understand that it has to be the right exercise. It can’t be some random routine that doesn’t consider their background before and after surgery.

If patients had active lifestyles before surgery, it can be frustrating to suddenly be severely limited. They are anxious to get back to activity after an injury and can often overdo it.
“Say a patient comes in and had knee pain with walking, and we take care of that,” Adam explains. “Then they say, ‘Hey, can I go run?’ and they go run 45 minutes.”

Now, the knee pain is back.

To prevent this, he puts his patients on a program that encourages them to pace themselves.

“The return-to-running program is something that’s used to gradually increase the stress on their system over time,” says Adam.

Remove The Fear Factor

Some patients worry that therapy will take too long and be frustrating. But they may not know that new techniques and equipment combine gentle exercise with rapid recovery.

You can tell your patients that progress doesn’t have to be painful or painfully slow.

Adam cites what he calls the G-trainer, or AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill, as a tool he uses to do this for his clients.

“It’s kind of like running or walking with training wheels,” he explains. “You eliminate the impact. That allows patients to move at a higher level.”

“To try to get them to run continuously, we can put them in the AlterG at 30, 40, 50, 85% body weight, and they can start running,” Adam says. “So, if they aren’t ready for full impact for 30 minutes, we put them in there for 10 minutes at 50 percent.”

Allowing patients to ramp up their activity makes physical therapy much more productive.

“They can start to get some early movements,” Adam explains. “They can literally get their sea legs back and figure out how to run again.”

Your patient just had surgery. It’s vital for your patients to get up and exercise soon after surgery.  Learn more about how to communicate its benefits.

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