As hard as we try to prevent surgery from being necessary, in some cases it is the absolute best option. Recovery after a surgery varies by type, and there are multiple approaches, types, and target tissues that can be addressed throughout your body. As all of these differences can affect what you should and shouldn’t be doing after, it can be extremely important to know as much about your surgery as possible. A lot of the words thrown around may not even make sense to you, but to your therapist this can make a huge difference too.
So what should you know before leaving your doctor?
1) What tissues were operated on? Rarely are surgeons working through only one tissue. Often muscle, tendon, ligament, bone, meniscus, nerve, disc, and labrum may be involved at varying levels, either through removal or repair. Sometimes we get replacements out of metal, donor grafts, or our own body tissues. Each heals at different rates and with different precautions taken at different stages. Being able to tell your therapist the exact things that were touched, placed, or removed is important, because the referral order we receive rarely says!
2) What precautions are you under? Are you allowed to weight bear on your leg, or lift your own arm? Is there a specific weight limit you are restricted to, or is there a range limitation you should not move through? In the hustle and bustle after an operation these bits of information can get lost, so make sure the discharge team gives you written instructions so you know how to keep yourself on the fast path to healing at home before you even get to therapy!
3) When your surgeon finally opened you up, what was their estimated healing time of what they saw and did? As amazing as medical imaging like MRIs can be, some things do not register, and it might not be noticeable until the surgeon is actively working. It is important to remember that healing time and recovery time are different as well! Tissues can be fully “mended” back together, but remain profoundly weak or stiff from disuse, and recovering through those deficits often takes longer than the estimate of tissue healing time, so knowing the bare minimum time before tissue is connected back to itself fully is a big deal!
4) What is your first home exercise program? Before you get to me, you should already have a list of beginning exercises to help recovery. These might be simple exercises that seem unrelated to your injury, like hand, calf, thigh, and buttock squeezes that keep blood flowing and prevent clots, or range of motion exercises to maintain your motion until a therapist can start working advanced exercises with you. Either way, I will rarely see an orthopedic surgery without an immediate post operative exercise plan, and if you don’t know yours, you should definitely ask right away to start out your recovery on the right foot!
5) What can I expect to feel as the anesthesia wears off? While surgery is purposeful, precise, and helpful, our bodies perceive is as a traumatic invasion. Your brain may understand the difference between a scalpel and a tiger claw, but your nervous system does not and our bodies will often respond to surgery with specific types of pain and inflammation. While these are normal and expected by your doctors, they can be quite frightening if you have been surprised by them! Make sure you know exactly what you are expecting on the way out the door so that you can worry less and recover more!