Surgery is not something to take lightly, because it places stress on your entire body: not only on the bones, muscles and soft tissue involved, but also on the heart, the lungs, the circulatory system and other organs.

Problems that may arise following various types of surgery include issues with balance and posture; breathing difficulties; loss of sensation; weakness; reduced lung function; blood clots; and incontinence.

Given the impact, it’s not surprising that your body needs time to recover its strength and stamina, as well as its mobility. In order to give your body the best opportunity to adjust to the demands of surgery and achieve the results you envision, you’ll want to take advantage of post-operative rehab physiotherapy.

Benefits of Post-Operative Rehab Physiotherapy

A licensed physiotherapist will be able to promote healing, help improve your range of motion in the affected area, prevent the loss of muscle mass and keep scar tissue from forming. Physiotherapy assists you in achieving optimal post-operative physical functioning. In addition, it helps to keep you motivated and reduce the normal post-operative feelings of stress and frustration.

Post-operative physiotherapy is always beneficial, and it is often recommended for surgeries such as:

  • Knee, e.g., replacements, arthroscopy, fractures, meniscal repairs;
  • Hip, e.g., replacements or resurfacing, fractures;
  • Shoulder, e.g., reconstruction, rotator cuff repair, stabilization;
  • Ankle and foot, e.g., spur removal, reconstruction, ligament repairs;
  • Spine, e.g., fusion/stabilization; and
  • Elbow, e.g., releasing tennis or golf elbow

In fact, research has demonstrated specific benefits of post-operative physiotherapy for a number of procedures:

  • Total hip and knee replacement: earlier hospital discharge;
  • Cardiac surgery: lung function;
  • Spinal surgery: improved spinal mobility;
  • Colorectal surgery: increased cardiovascular fitness;
  • Breast surgery: fewer side effects; and
  • Many surgeries: reduced risk of blood clots.

Your first encounter with post-operative physiotherapy will generally take place in the hospital, where the staff physiotherapists often provide basic rehabilitation at the bedside to:

  • Prevent breathing and vascular complications;
  • Offer movement assistance; and
  • Assist you with the use of necessary mobility aids.

Phases of Post-Operative Rehab Physiotherapy

Once you are discharged, you’ll want to continue your recovery under the care of a licensed physiotherapist. Your licensed physiotherapist will work collaboratively with you to create a rehabilitation program designed to meet your goals and needs. They will conduct a full assessment and take into account the restrictions and timelines specific to the type of surgery you’ve undergone. Post-operative physiotherapy happens in three phases, each with a different focus: early recovery, returning range of motion and restoring function.

Early Recovery Phase

The early recovery phase of rehabilitation begins once there is a reduction in post-operative pain and swelling. Initially, they will generally work with you to further alleviate any pain and swelling, suggest gentle exercises to begin restoring muscle function and provide manual therapy to start increasing range of motion.

Returning Range of Motion Phase

Once you’re ready, your licensed physiotherapist will move on to help you normalize your body’s range of motion, strength and mechanics. Your program during this phase of physiotherapy will likely include balance and proprioception – the sense of your body’s position in space – exercises, more challenging strengthening exercises, soft tissue treatment for mobility and more aggressive manual therapy that will help restore range of motion.

Restoring Function Phase

The final phase of your rehabilitation will focus on restoring independent movement, continuing to build your strength and meeting your personal goals. Each person is different; one may be hoping to be involved in competitive sport, while another may simply want to be able to keep up with energetic young children or grandchildren. Therefore, the exercises during this phase of your program will be targeted toward complex functional goals. Your balance and proprioception exercises will also increase in difficulty and manual therapy will continue to increase your range of motion.

By taking advantage of the services offered by a licensed physiotherapist, you are giving your body the boost it needs to function at its best.