A physical therapists visits a senior woman at home to practice rehabilitation exercises

After most major surgical procedures, seniors usually spend time recovering in a hospital bed or temporarily immobilized. There may also be pain and weakness due to the surgery. Physicians often prescribe a course of physical therapy for a complete recovery, to help seniors get back to their normal activities as quickly as possible.

The Benefits of Physical Therapy After Surgery

Why is physical therapy important after surgery? While staying in bed following surgery may seem like the natural thing to do, a lack of physical activity contributes to loss of muscle strength and reduces lung and heart function. A carefully planned and professionally supervised physical therapy program pushes an individual to move in a safe environment. It can also help to manage pain without the use of medication and can have a positive effect on a person’s mood and outlook. All these benefits combine for a healthy and successful outcome after surgery.

When Should You Start Physical Therapy After Surgery?

Getting moving is the key to a healthy recovery. And there’s evidence that therapeutic exercise before surgery is as important as it is afterwards. Studies show by improving their overall physical function before a procedure, seniors can positively affect their postoperative outcome, reduce the time they spend in hospital and reduce the risk of complications, especially for cardiac patients. The study also showed that for the best results, postoperative exercise should be started as soon as possible after the surgery.

How Does Physical Therapy Help Seniors Recover From Surgery?

It enhances your strength and range of motion through specific movements, stretches, techniques and equipment. While some of the exercises may resemble ones you’d see in a gym, the difference is you’re under the guidance of a medical professional trained in physical therapy activities for elderly patients. Your therapist understands surgical procedures and treatment goals and will work to address specific areas of weakness in your body that may have been affected by surgery or hospitalization.

What Can You Expect From a Physical Therapy Session?

Physical therapists use a range of modalities which include:

Stretching: Stiffness in your muscles and joints can affect normal activities such as walking, using stairs or reaching overhead. With regular stretching exercises, your therapist will help you improve your flexibility and range of motion. Stretching is also recommended when scar tissue is formed after surgery — stretching will relax the skin and prevent it from contracting around the scar tissue and hindering future movement.

Strengthening: Surgery on the knee, hip or back can affect the strength and range of motion of those joints. A well-planned physical therapy program may involve simple exercises for strengthening using dumbbells, free weights, therapy balls and resistance bands. Building muscle strength will help to retrain and redistribute stress in the area affected by the surgery, helping you to reduce its effects and bounce back more quickly.

Core Stability: Core strength is crucial for seniors who want to maintain their independence. A weak core affects balance and mobility, leading to poor posture and increasing the risk of a dangerous fall. It can also force other muscles and joints to compensate by taking the load of daily movement, causing them to become overused or injured. A physical therapist will recommend strengthening exercises for the back, abdominal, hip and pelvis muscles to increase functional movement, both before and after surgery.

Cold and Heat Therapy: Cold and heat, when used correctly, can reduce inflammation, or stimulate blood flow to a muscle or joint. In general, cold therapy is most often used after an acute injury or surgery, typically with ice packs to decrease swelling, pain or inflammation. Dry or moist heat therapy ttreats muscle tension or chronic conditions such as arthritis, relaxing tissues and stimulating blood flow for pain relief. A physical therapist will know which kind of therapy to use, and when, and most importantly, how to do so safely.

Ultrasound: Ultrasound therapy is widely used for conditions such as tendinitis or bursitis. A physical therapist will use a machine that produces high-frequency sound waves to stimulate deep tissues within the muscle. It causes warming and increased blood flow to the affected tissues.

What Should I Do After a Physical Therapy Session?

Expect some soreness after a physical therapy session. After all, you’re stretching and activating parts of your body that have been affected by inactivity or surgery. Applying a cold pack, drinking plenty of water and resting can alleviate this temporary soreness. Take note of how your body is feeling, and provide feedback to your physical therapist to guide future sessions.

Recover in the Comfort of Your Own Home

You simply feel better when you can rest and recover in comfortable and familiar surroundings. With just one call, our fully trained and licensed physical therapists come to you, with all the equipment needed for an in-home rehabilitation session. Whether you need short-term therapy or have long-term needs, we’re a trusted rehabilitation resource. Learn more about our Therapy at Home services.