How to lift surgery success rates

When surgery is the only way forward, a patient’s main considerations are probably costs and how much impact it’s going to have on their mind and body post-op.

Oh yes, and how much will it hurt?

The areas many of us give little thought to are the days and weeks preceding the operation, as we may not realise that taking action in this part of the process can help with what happens during and after surgery.

In 2017, the University of Michigan researched the effects of ‘prehabilitation’, encouraging patients booked in for surgery to move more, eat healthier, cut back on tobacco, breathe deeper, reduce their stress and focus on their goals for after their operation.

Researchers reported that the approach showed signs of reducing total medical costs related to the patient’s care, and cutting their length of stay in the hospital, compared with similar Michigan Medicine patients who had surgery before the program began.

America’s Cleveland Clinic says there are five things we can do to improve our chances of a better surgical outcome and quicker recovery.

  1. In the days before surgery, eat foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals. Such foods help to reduce inflammation.
  2. Exercise regularly. The fitter and stronger you are, the more quickly you’ll be up and about after surgery.
  3. Cut out smoking and drinking. These are known to affect anesthesia.
  4. Inform your doctor about any medications you may be taking. Blood pressure and blood sugar need to be controlled. This is especially relevant to diabetics.
  5. There are some vitamins and supplements that can interact with certain medications, especially anticoagulants. Again, talk to your doctor. 

Given the soaring rate of knee surgeries as the population ages – numbers have doubled since 2003, the Australian Orthopedic Association reports – we asked physiotherapist Jason Lee for his advice on prehabilitation, specifically for knee replacement patients. Many of his suggestions could also apply to other surgeries.

He says: “Everyone’s prehabilitation will differ and it’s important to tailor your prehab based on your individual circumstances.

“In addition to strengthening muscles surrounding the surgical site, I also recommend you improve your overall strength and endurance before the surgery.

For example, I’d encourage you to do exercises to improve the endurance and strength of your upper body. Anything that improves muscles in the forearms, shoulders and chest would be beneficial.

“It is amazing how reliant we become on these muscle groups when using crutches during the first few weeks after surgery.

“Try exercises such as bicep curls or shoulder presses. The weight does not need to be heavy as endurance is more important. Try using a light weight, such as a drink bottle or a can of tinned food, and build up to between 25 and 30 repetitions. 

“On the knee, I would also recommend strengthening other muscle groups in the lower limb. Calf strength is equally important, so do some calf or heel raises – in either a sitting or standing position.

“You can also improve your hip strength by performing ‘bridges’, that is, lying on your back, knees bent, feet on the ground, and raising your hips. 

“Importantly, continue to be as mobile as you can before surgery. Incidental walking or even walking around home in short bursts will be of great benefit. While it sounds very simplistic, walking is one of the best exercises you can do before surgery.”  

Whatever surgery is on the cards for you, quiz the health professionals involved, do your research, know what your surgery entails and what exercises you should do post-op to help recovery. You’ll be more capable physically and mentally as a result.

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Perko

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