Prehabilitation for Surgery Recovery

May 19 2017

EXCEL Staff General

No, that’s not a typo. We’re talking about PREhabilitation, a relatively new idea in the medical world. Just like rehab helps you recover after surgery or injury, prehab helps you prepare for surgery with the goal of shortening your recovery time and making it less painful.

Ideally, prehab begins at least six weeks before your surgery date. Working with a physical therapist, you’ll perform an exercise program geared towards putting your body in the best possible position to recover from surgery. Your prehab program may include a weight-loss regimen (especially in the case of joint replacement surgery) or it may simply be focused on strengthening your body.

The Benefits

Think of prehabilitation like studying for a test: the better prepared you are, the better you do. Patients who have participated in prehab tend to bounce back more quickly from surgery, hitting the benchmarks of being able to walk to the bathroom and down the hallway much sooner than patients who did not get prehab. A study by researchers at New England Baptist Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School even showed that patients who received prehabilitation reduced their odds of needing inpatient rehabilitation by 73 percent.

Prehab allows patients to return home sooner, start outpatient rehab sooner, and ultimately get back to living their lives sooner.

And while studies may not have measured this specifically, many patients may find that working on prehab lessens their anxiety about surgery, as it lets them feel like they have a hand in preparing for the procedure and are being proactive about their upcoming recovery.

The Drawback

Although the benefits of prehabilitation are clear, many insurance plans only cover a limited number of physical therapy visits per surgery, lumping prehab and rehab together. Patients may have to pay for prehab out of pocket, or get only one or two sessions before following a home exercise program on their own. It’s best to check with your insurance provider to see what your physical therapy benefits are prior to starting prehab (most physical therapy companies will automatically verify your benefits for you and inform you of how many visits are covered under your plan).

Who Should Consider Prehab?

Prehabilitation is most often thought of in terms of knee or hip replacement surgery, but studies have been done for other surgeries as well. A study of 77 colorectal cancer patients at McGill University in Montreal tested the benefits of prehab for cancer patients. The subjects were given an aerobic and strength training based home workout program to follow and a special diet to improve their health before surgery.

Not surprisingly, the prehab group did better at the pre-surgery Six Minute Walk fitness test than the control group. When tested again two months after the surgery, the prehab group walked on average 23.7 meters more than they did before starting the trial, whereas the control group walked 21.8 meters less. Over all, the prehab group showed a greater return to baseline exercise capabilities.

Prehab may seem especially attractive to athletes and others who are already active, as they will take easily to having a specific exercise program. However, it has powerful benefits for those who lead a more sedentary lifestyle, as it improves their health and fitness and puts their body in a better position to recover from the stress of surgery and hospitalization.

If you have an upcoming surgery, come talk to us about a prehab program. We’d love to work with you before and after your procedure and help you recover faster and more smoothly.