HomeHealthWhat is ‘prehabilitation’?

What is ‘prehabilitation’?

As a physiotherapist, a significant component of my work is assisting patients to recover and rehabilitate following surgery. Despite having similar surgical interventions or procedures, each patient is unique and patients often progress at different rates. Many factors can influence recovery time and rehabilitation.

Regardless of your surgical procedure, rehabilitation is crucial following surgery, and a physiotherapist will have some input into your post-operative care. Rehabilitation is incredibly challenging and anything that can be done prior to surgery to make rehabilitation easier is always welcomed. Based on clinical experience and current literature, there is no doubt that the better you are going into the surgery, the better the results and outcome following surgery. This includes overall fitness, strength and flexibility to name a few factors.

Following any surgery, there will be a period of immobilisation (or at least reduced movement for several days or weeks). The adage of “if you don’t move it, you lose it” applies following surgery. By improving factors such as strength, flexibility and fitness prior to surgery, short-term and long-term results following surgery are often improved dramatically.

Prehabilitation or physiotherapy prior to surgery focuses on maximising and optimising joint flexibility, surrounding muscular strength and fitness prior to undergoing surgery. Importantly, your physiotherapists will be mindful to ensure that you exercise safely without causing further significant pain or irritation to the joints.

Prehabilitation will vary from person to person. For example, I regularly use hydrotherapy as a short-term intervention in patients prior to surgery for hip or knee replacements. Often, these patients report increased pain and discomfort with weight bearing. However, exercising in water often allows the patient to perform and strengthen muscle groups which would previously be too uncomfortable to perform on land. This allows strength and flexibility to be maintained rather than deteriorating prior to surgery.

In other cases, patients may be able to tolerate more and perform exercises which are land-based, at home or even at the gym.

In addition, prehabilitation often prepares patients for what to expect following surgery. For example, I will regularly prescribe upper limb strengthening exercises for patients who are about to undergo lower limb surgeries. Patients often fail to realise how demanding and challenging using crutches or a frame can be for several days or weeks. Even learning to use crutches or a frame following surgery can be challenging. As silly as it may sound, practising how to use crutches; getting in and out of the car; or even getting in and out of the bed safely prior to surgery can make it a lot easier following an operation.

Prehabilitation will vary from person to person and surgery to surgery. Liaise and speak to your health professional about what is the most appropriate exercise prior to your operation. Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach prior to undergoing prehabilitation; and what has worked well for a friend or family might not be as beneficial for you. Your health professional or physiotherapist will be well placed to guide and assist you not only following surgery, but prior to surgery to ensure optimal and best results in the long term.

If you have a question for Jason, please send it to newsletters@yourlifechoices.com.au

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