Exercise before surgery can reduce complications, ease pain

Q: I'm going to have hip replacement surgery next month, and my doctor says I should exercise for a better recovery. How am I supposed to do that when I can barely take the stairs?-Cheryl W., Austin

A: Good question. Smart doctor. Study after study has shown that exercise before surgery reduces complication rates, shortens hospital stays, eases post-op pain and improves recovery times. The best approach: physical therapy.

Have your primary doc or orthopedic surgeon write you a prescription for PT. The therapist will check your current range of motion, strength and flexibility, and give you exercises that will make noticeable improvements where needed (including leg, arm and core strength). You may discover that you can pedal a bike for 20 minutes when it's difficult to walk down the street! These workouts will also reduce pre-operative pain and anxiety.

If, for any reason, you cannot get to a physical therapist, you can still get the exercise you need to improve your surgical outcome. A 2016 study from the University of Michigan showed that one "home-based, pre-operative training program decreased hospital duration of stay, lowered costs of care and was well accepted by patients." So ask your docs to recommend a video or audio program or to design a workout for you to do at home.

In addition to working out, making upgrades to your lifestyle habits can improve your outcome. The American College of Surgeons has implemented the Strong for Surgery program, which focuses on helping with smoking cessation and improving nutrition for people with Type 2 diabetes so they attain better glucose control. The result: reduction of postoperative complications and improved healing and postoperative recovery.

So, Cheryl, anything you can do to improve your health pre-surgery will make your recovery post-surgery better and easier.

(c) 2018 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.

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