A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Physical therapy before surgery may reduce recovery time

Why is physical therapy needed

Pre-surgical physical therapy, or prehabilitation, is often needed before orthopedic surgery to better optimize your post-operative recovery.

Pre-surgical physical therapy, or prehabilitation, is often needed before orthopedic surgery to better optimize your post-operative recovery.

“If we can make the involved and supporting muscles stronger before surgery, you will be better set up for success after surgery,” said Heather Eck, D.P.T., a Marshfield Clinic Health System physical therapist.

This concept has been highly studied and proven effective, including one research study that found that prehabilitation intervention helped improve functional ability up to 30%.

What are the benefits of pre-surgery physical therapy?

Participating in prehabilitation can have a variety of benefits, such as:

  • Meeting and building rapport with your physical therapist.

“This makes for a smoother transition after surgery,” Eck said. “It also allows you to see a friendly face when you come to your first physical therapy visit after surgery.”

  • Getting answers to questions you may have about the surgical or rehabilitation process.

Surgery can sometimes be a scary thing and it’s natural to have plenty of questions on your mind. Your physical therapy (PT) team can be a great resource for you. Eck noted that she is often asked post-surgery questions regarding precautions that may need to be followed, how to use assistive devices such as walkers and how to best set-up the home for safety and accessibility purposes.

  • Learning exercises that are safe and effective for you to start after surgery.

This will mainstream your rehabilitation and most likely cut down on the total amount of recovery time.

What might your sessions look like?

Prehabilitation often will start with similar exercises to what you may be given post-surgery. However, as the patient progresses, your therapist will move away from those initial exercises and cater the plan towards each patient’s unique goals.

Most of the time, your therapist will recommend starting physical therapy around 2-4 weeks before your surgery. Eck said that while this is usually pretty standard, it may depend on other factors such as insurance, the body region involved and the severity of the patient’s functional limitations.

Answering common concerns

Eck said that a common concern patients have raised about prehabilitation involves the financial aspect.

“People with co-pays, high deductibles, or a limited amount of visits to use per year may be hesitant,” she said. “In these situations, we are able to keep pre-surgical physical therapy as a “one and done” visit — where we spend an hour with you for one session to teach you the home program and answer any questions.”

Patients would still be able to keep in touch with their therapist if they have any new questions after their visit.

Other concerns may center on availability and access. At Marshfield Clinic Health System, physical therapists are working to provide telehealth PT visits.

“This may benefit patients during prehabilitation, since we can actually see how the house is set-up and where you will be doing your exercises after surgery,” Eck said.

Planning an orthopedic surgery? Talk with your doctor about a referral to prehabilitation physical therapy.

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