Recovering after an operation

Lead Nurse / Interim Directorate Manager Surgery at Bupa Cromwell Hospital
26 January 2017

If you’re about to have an operation, your healthcare team will have given you plenty of information about the procedure, and how to prepare for it. But it’s also important that you know what to do afterwards. Taking the right steps when recovering from an operation will help you to get better quicker.

The exact instructions for recovery will depend on what procedure you’re having. Your doctor will explain these in detail and it’s important that you follow them. But it can help to know what to expect beforehand, so I’ve picked out some examples of how you can optimise your recovery after surgery.

Image of a man putting on some sports socks

Care for your wound

If you have an invasive procedure, your surgeon will make a surgical incision (cut), which you’ll have to manage in a particular way. It’s important to try and avoid a ‘surgical site infection’, where bacteria enter your body through the cut the surgeon has made. Good wound care will also help the wound to heal as quickly as possible.

Your healthcare team will give you advice around:

  • Changing your dressing – The nursing team will say how long you should leave it on for, before either changing or removing it.
  • Looking after stitches – You’ll be told if these are dissolvable, or if you need to come back in to have them removed.
  • Bathing and showering – Your nursing team will tell you how long you need to wait before having a bath or shower. They’ll also give you specific instructions on how to be careful of your wound while washing.

Keep moving ...

  • After your operation you may feel like you need to relax and recover for a while.
  • But in most cases it’s important to get up and moving as soon as you can. If you stay in hospital for a little while after your operation, your nurses will encourage you to move around on the ward. This will reduce the risk of complications after surgery such as thrombo-embolitic events (risk of blood clots forming), loss of muscle strength, and chest infections.

Again, the best way for you to keep moving after your surgery will depend on the procedure you’ve had, and you as an individual. So it’s important to follow instructions and ask advice from your therapy team and nurses.

... but don’t overdo it

You need to remain mobile, but don’t do anything too strenuous too quickly. Discuss with the nurse or surgeon looking after you before resuming your normal routine in terms of travel, hobbies and work. You’ll be issued with a medical certificate to show to your employer, if you need it.

If you’re a keen sports person or do a lot of exercise, recovering fully from surgery or an injury can be a staged process. It may involve carefully building up the amount and types of exercise you do. It’s crucial to follow your rehabilitation programme carefully and get the right advice from the therapies team, otherwise you risk slowing down your recovery, or injuring yourself again.

Keep an eye out for complications

If you follow the advice of your healthcare team, complications are rare. But they do happen, and may not become apparent until you’ve gone home. The healthcare team will give you advice on exactly what you’ll need to look out for.

They’ll also give you a number to call if you have any concerns or notice anything unusual.

Stay healthy

For many people, recovering after surgery provides an opportunity to make positive adjustments to their lifestyle. You may want to review your diet – is it as healthy and balanced as it could be? If you’re a smoker, now might be a time to try and consider reducing or giving up.

Karen Smith
Lead Nurse / Interim Directorate Manager Surgery at Bupa Cromwell Hospital

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