“My surgeon suggests that I visit a physical therapist before surgery, but I thought that was something I did after the operation. Is physical therapy before surgery something I should consider?”

Yes. Whether you are going to have a joint replaced or an ACL injury repaired, prehabilitation, rehabilitation before surgery, with a certified athletic trainer or physical therapist can help:

  • Relieve pain
  • Increase stamina
  • Reduce complications of surgery
  • Restore range of motion
  • Shorten your hospital stay and recovery time

Working with a qualified prehabilitation specialist can help you regain strength, flexibility and motion in the joints and muscles near your injury before your surgery. Studies show when this is possible, it leads to faster recovery with better outcomes.

Recovering your mobility after a major surgery is challenging no matter what type of surgery you experience. Starting prehabilitation before surgery will strengthen your body and give you an indication of the kind of work you will have to do after surgery to regain your movement.

Prehabilitation can help you prepare for recovery.

Your athletic trainer or physical therapist will show you how to maneuver in and out of bed after surgery, give you tips and tricks like how to use the commode, and how to navigate stairs. He or she will also help you use crutches or other assistive devices, if necessary. Whether your surgery immobilizes your arm, leg, or shoulder, the rest of your body will need to compensate for the recovering limb.

Prehabilitation allows your athletic trainer or physical therapist to explain how your joints, ligaments and muscles work together to create movement. Prehabilitation also allows your therapist to measure your current range of motion and discuss your goals for recovery after surgery. After surgery and rehabilitation, some people achieve a greater range of the movement or compete at higher levels than they did before their injury or condition.

Your attitude about recovery is nearly as important as the surgery.

Knowing your goals after surgery helps your physical therapist or your athletic trainer design a rehabilitation plan that fits your needs. Knowing what to expect helps many patients maintain a positive outlook during the sometimes, arduous process. As always, the outcome of your surgery will be unique based on your condition before surgery and your compliance with your surgeon’s and your therapist’s post-surgical instructions. It’s important to allow your body to heal and not do more than your care team recommends.

When should I start a prehabilitation program?

You should begin your prehabilitation at least six weeks before your surgery is scheduled. Although, people who find they need surgery just two weeks after diagnosis also can benefit from a pre-surgical program.

You should exercise as much as possible before your surgery, but take care that you exercise at a level that your body can tolerate. You don’t want to pull a muscle or stress your body more than necessary before surgery. The intensity and duration of your workouts should be determined by how you feel. Even if you can only tolerate gentle stretches, you will benefit from the movement.

Since insurance doesn’t always cover a prehabilitation program, you may want to consider working with a certified athletic trainer or a personal trainer who can help you develop the muscles you will need to use after your surgery.

Whether your post-surgical goal is to participate in competitive sports or just move as pain-free as possible, it is wise to be as fit as you can. The stronger and healthier you are before you go into surgery, the better your outcome.