Prehab: How You Can Jumpstart Recovery Before Your Procedure

Prehab: How You Can Jumpstart Recovery Before Your Procedure

We’ve all heard the saying, “If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. So when it comes to big life events, most of us follow the standard recipe for success: plan, prep, & execute! That extra leg work at the onset can really make a difference in the final outcome. But how exactly do you prep for something like surgery? Pre-hab!

Never heard of it? Pre-op physical therapy involves working with a physical therapist (PT) to develop a program that will put you in a position to recover faster. Another bonus? Pre-hab has been shown to reduce the need for additional post-op care, lowering the financial burden of the patient (that’s you!).

A Cheat Sheet for Recovery

Let’s face it, planning for surgery can be stressful and certainly anxiety-provoking. And while your doctor will run you through the “cliff notes” version of the post-op protocol (like your medications, recovery timeline, etc.), they may not go into the nitty-gritty details of your day-to-day post-op. 

This is when a prehab plan can come in handy. First, find out if prehab is right for you and if so, work together to find a PT that would be a good fit for your procedure. Many therapists specialize in specific types of physical therapy, so find one that’s going to create a prehab program that’ll have you feeling like a recovery rockstar post-op!

Your PT will not only work on the physical aspect of prehab, but they’ll get you ready for some of the mental obstacles you might be challenged with. If your recovery requires you to use an assistive device (like a cane, walker, or an upper-body stabilizer such as a sling or a brace), you might need a little mental prep with ways to navigate some new challenges.

Things like the stairs, the shower, or opening that tightly sealed pickle jar …(okay, that was always an obstacle) can be difficult during recovery, so having your PT give you some tricks of the trade could come in clutch.

Accountability and Motivation

During pre-hab, your PT will be keeping track of your starting point with physical and mobility limitations. This can be huge during recovery when you might be feeling discouraged by your progress. Your therapist will step in and remind you of your “humble beginnings” and give you that extra push of encouragement to keep on trekking on, even if 100% health might be feeling out of reach.

“A good PT will measure your progress before and after surgery and remind you just how far you’ve come,” says Ali Paris, a student of the University of St. Augustine’s Doctorate of Physical Therapy program.

“Since recovery can be slower than a patient would like, it’s super easy to start to ‘slack off’ on the exercises your PT prescribes. Some patients will even discontinue their rehabilitation programming altogether if they’re frustrated by the lack of progress.”, Paris says.

On the other hand, if a patient does see some improvement (but isn’t fully recovered), they may be less motivated to hold the course with their postop rehab. Your PT will serve you up a bit of “real-talk” and remind you of just how far you’ve come since your prehab days. Basically, your PT will be your check and balance, before and after surgery.

Body Benefits of Prehab

The human body is sort of like a well-oiled machine, with each part playing a role in the operation. So when any single piece is out of order, things can get messy. Our bodies are programmed to move as efficiently as possible, even if that compromises the function of our entire systems.

For example, if a joint, bone, or another type of tissue isn’t working properly, something else in the body will kick in to compensate. This phenomenon is super common in a weight training exercise and even has its own name, synergistic dominance. If the target muscle is too tight or impaired in some way, the assisting muscles (the synergists) will take over the movement. This eventually leads to muscle imbalances that can set off a domino effect of additional problems. 

Once again, here is where a prehab program can be just what the doctor ordered (literally). Depending on the procedure, a prehab program will help to increase flexibility (which improves circulation) and range of motion. This will also improve your chances of increased postop mobility and muscle strength, which better prepares your body to recover. A Prehab program will also establish a base level of “muscle memory” so that your body will be familiar with the movement patterns it will need to perform when you’ve reached that stage of recovery.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed going into surgery, having a physical therapist by your side could be priceless for improving both your mental and physical state. Not only does prehab provide you with a game plan to follow before and after your procedure, but it also partners you up with a recovery sidekick who will support you from start to finish!

Want more great surgery prep tips? Check out the rest of our blog!