Post-Operative Care: Activity, Incision Care, Rehab and Recovery

Part 2 of 2

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Thirst and Nourishment
Some patients experience nausea or vomiting after surgery. Therefore patients may only be allowed ice chips, sips of water or clear liquids the first day or two. During this time nutritional needs are met through IV fluids. Patients then progress toward a regular well-balanced diet.

Circulation and Ambulation
Changing position in bed, walking and prescribed exercise promotes circulation. Good blood flow discourages the formation of blood clots and enhances healing. You may have compression devices placed on your legs to prevent blood clot formation. The most important thing to prevent blood clots is early ambulation.
Doctor consulting with patient in hospital roomMost patients sit up in bed and walk with assistance the day following surgery.Most patients sit up in bed and walk with assistance the day following surgery. If an assisted device is needed (e.g. walker, cane) a physical therapist will teach the patient how to safely walk, climb stairs and maintain balance.

Each day the patient is encouraged to increase physical activity and to be as independent as possible. This includes person hygiene, getting in and out of bed without assistance and walking.

Surgical Incisions
Patients should expect pain in the area of the incision. Pain will subside as healing progresses. Unusual incisional pain, swelling, redness, discharge, numbness or flu-like symptoms (e.g. fever/chills) should be reported immediately.

As a rule, keep incisions dry. Avoid tub baths, swimming and the Jacuzzi until the physician grants permission.

Surgical dressings that cover the incision may be removed prior to discharge from the hospital. Dissolving stitches, sutures or staples are used to close incisions. Be sure to make an appointment to have sutures or staples removed according to the physician’s written instructions.

Some incisions are held closed with Steri-Strips. These are small pieces of paper tape made to peel and fall off as the incision heals. It may take one to two weeks for all of the Steri-Strips to fall off. Follow your surgeon or nurses instructions for when any remaining Steri-Strips should be removed.

Physical Therapy and Rehab
Physical therapy (PT) may begin as early as the day following surgery! PT is an important part of recovery because it helps the patient build strength, flexibility and endurance. Many patients are given a home exercise program to continue their progress for life.

Occupational therapy (OT) is helpful in identifying special needs following your surgery such as assistive devices to help put shoes on or pick up something that has fallen to the floor. Some OT programs help the patient to problem-solve mechanical deficiency (e.g. dressing). Other aspects of OT would be identifying barriers to returning to the work environment. The OT would help simulate the work environment to help the patient resume work and their life.

Hospital Discharge
Some patients will require home care or assistance. These services may be provided by a visiting nurse, physical therapist or home health aid. Prior to discharge patient needs are assessed and arrangements are made for needed services. Some patients may be discharged to a rehabilitation facility.

Prior to discharge, patients are given written instructions and necessary prescriptions or medications. The instructions provide reminders for various aspects of home care.

Patients returning home should “pre-arrange” for someone responsible to drive them home and stay with them the first day or two. To make the ride home more comfortable, have the driver bring pillows and a blanket. Ride in an upright position with seatbelt fastened. You may need to stop for a break to stand up if your ride is longer than 1 hour.

Your Recovery
It takes times to recover from surgery, so take it slow! Expect to feel tired. Normal activities may be restricted for several weeks. This may include working, lifting and driving a motor vehicle. Surgery not only affects your ability to concentrate, but medication taken for pain may impede your ability to drive safely.

The best advice is to closely follow the physician’s orders for a safe and speedy recovery!

Commentary by Rick C. Sasso, MD

This is a very important and well-written overview of postoperative care.  All patients who will be having surgery in the near future should read this article. Patients recover much better and quicker after surgery when they are aware of the routine postoperative steps.

Updated on: 04/03/18
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What Is Post-operative Care?
Rick C. Sasso, MD
Orthopaedic Surgeon
Indiana Spine Group
Carmel, IN
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