Conserving Energy during Recovery

Peer Reviewed

Due to changes in our health care system, patients are spending less time convalescing in the hospital and more time recovering at home. Although most patients are delighted to continue physical therapy or other treatment on an outpatient basis, home recovery can be a challenge.

time to healFor some, fatigue interferes with their desire to "get things done." However, fatigue should be expected following spinal surgery or injury. During the recovery process, the body uses a great deal of energy to heal. This combined with possible side effects from medication taken for pain and inflammation can account for that "drained" feeling.

The following are suggested ways to conserve energy while protecting the spine. It is a good idea to review this list with your physician and/or therapist, as this list is inconclusive. They will be able to offer additional suggestions specific to your situation.

By simplifying movement and eliminating unnecessary steps you may be able to conserve energy vital for healing and recovery.

Setting Priorities
You might start out by asking yourself, "what are today's priorities?" and "what can I realistically accomplish?" This may necessitate making a list of work to be done today and other tasks for later in the week.

Remember, if you schedule too much for yourself you will only feel anxious (to get it done!), overwhelmed (my list is too long!), and discouraged (I'll never get this all done today!).

Many patients have found if they avoid the following four things - they are able to reward themselves with a bit more energy and a better mental outlook for tomorrow.

  • Avoid ... Perfectionism - stick to your list of priorities
  • Avoid ... Rushing - don't try to 'beat the clock'
  • Avoid ... Unnecessary movement
  • Avoid ... Worrying about what you cannot change

Smart Planning
You may need more rest than a normal night's sleep affords. This means scheduling periods of rest between activities, perhaps lying down for 15 minutes.

Don't underestimate a child's ability - they can be quite capable of handling a variety of tasks: running errands, household chores, and gardening.

Spread out light and heavy tasks throughout the day and week. The entire house probably does not need to be cleaned top to bottom in one day!

Organize work to avoid unnecessary movement such as bending, leaning, reaching, walking, and prolonged sitting and standing.

Do not start an activity that cannot be stopped.

Sit in a structured chair that offers support at a height that is appropriate for the activity. Consider sitting down to iron or prepare food.

Use both hands to work if appropriate to the task.

Stop an activity before you become tired - it will probably be there later!

Smart Kitchen Choices
As a general rule, organize cupboards and drawers so frequently used items are within easy reach and below shoulder level (e.g. eliminate reaching). Many patients have applied this principle to other areas in their homes and found it most helpful.

Eliminate needless motion by organizing utensils where they will be used.

Work in one direction instead of going back and forth.

Use pots and pans that are lighter in weight (e.g. aluminum, stainless steel). Consider using plastic bowls in lieu of ceramic or glass. Slide pans or bowls across the counter instead of lifting and carrying. Less weight moved = less energy used.

Consider one dish, easy to prepare meals. The choices of prepared mixes and healthy foods is incredible - even fresh salad is available in easy to open bags.

Dish food from the stove instead of lifting the pan(s). A stable cart on wheels can be a valuable assistant to move food to the table or clearing the table after a meal.

Soak dirty dishes and pans instead of standing and scrubbing. Save more time and energy by allowing these items to drip-dry rather than towel drying.

Energy Saving Tips - Cleaning
Gather what will be needed and transport it to the area to be cleaned on a stable cart with wheels - or ask someone to carry the items for you in a plastic bucket.

Many vacuum cleaners come with wonderful attachments designed to eliminate unnecessary bending and reaching. Use long smooth movements.

Use long handled mops and dusters to eliminate the need to bend and reach. Many sponge mops come equipped with automatic squeezing devices. These can be used to clean the bathtub and shower too!

Use long handled tongs to pick items up from the floor. Many home centers carry these items and others designed to help around the house.

Complete one area before moving to the next. This principle applies to making the bed too - complete one side before moving to the other.

Heavy cleaning - this is not the time! If absolutely necessary, coordinate these tasks with family members or friends.

Laundry and Ironing
Once again organization is key - keep laundry products nearby. Provide a table near the washer and dryer so clothes can be sorted and folded at a proper height eliminating bending over, stooping, and twisting. Front loading washers and dryers can be elevated to eliminate the need to bend over to load and unload clothes.

Sit down on a structured comfortable chair at an appropriate height to iron. The ironing board should be positioned just above the lap. Make sure the clothes to be ironed and a hanging rack are convenient. Work in one direction and slide the iron instead of lifting. Again, to conserve energy, don't iron anything that doesn't require ironing (e.g. sheets, pillow slips).

In General
Instead of diving into your day, plan how you will "get things done" by setting realistic priorities and organizing an efficient means for task completion. You can reward yourself with more energy and feel better for it!

Updated on: 03/21/16
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