Physical Therapy After Surgery: What You Need to Know

Physical therapy is a key component of recovering from several types of surgery. It can get you back on your feet faster and help to ensure a full recovery. Your exact physical therapy program will depend on the type of surgery you have, as well as your overall physical condition and individual needs. Regardless, though, physical therapy after any type of surgery follows the same general progression.


Your physical therapy program will likely begin as soon as your surgery is over, before you are released from the hospital. At this point, the primary goals are to control pain and ensure that you can perform basic self-care activities such as sitting on the edge of the bed, using a bedside toilet, and moving around with an assistive device such as a cane or a wheelchair (if needed). Depending on the type of surgery and your doctor’s recommendations, on the first or second day, you might be encouraged to walk around the hospital and even take a few stairs.

It is crucial to strike a balance between moving enough to loosen up and stay flexible, and not overdoing it. Pay close attention to your physical therapist’s instructions, and resist the urge to do just a little more than you were assigned. Getting plenty of rest now will help you regain your strength and ensure that you’re ready for a complete rehab program.

In-hospital techniques often include:
Targeted positioning exercises
Specific movements
Electrical stimulation
Ice or cooling sprays

Your physical therapist will also work with you on a discharge plan that includes finding a comfortable position for sleep, making sure that your home is accommodating (perhaps you need someone to make you a nest on the downstairs couch or move some furniture to make room for a wheelchair), and developing a list of home exercises to maintain flexibility.

Acute Phase

After discharge, you will move into a targeted recovery plan designed to rebuild strength as well as flexibility. In the first few weeks, your physical therapist will focus on several key areas:

Muscles around the surgical site
Muscles that grew weak pre-surgery
Joint stabilization
Mobility and flexibility improvement

Subacute Phase

At around 4 weeks post-surgery, you should start to feel a lot more “normal.” Your surgical site should be healing well, and you will likely notice a dramatic improvement in the strength and flexibility of the muscles and joints. At this point, your physical therapist will move to more of a rehab-style program, focusing on strengthening and restoring your body to its pre-injury or illness condition.

Chronic Phase

The last phase of physical therapy, the chronic phase is designed to transition you into taking responsibility for your own physical fitness. You will see the physical therapist less frequently, and will be encouraged to use a local fitness center to maintain your regimen. Your therapist will be available for advice as needed, but will become a lot more hands-off. At this point, you are about healed, and have the knowledge and experience you need to minimize the risks of future injuries.


Throughout your physical therapy journey, your therapist will work hard to provide you with all the information you need regarding your condition, recovery, and prognosis. Whenever you have a question, from pain control methods to returning to a high-impact activity, your physical therapist can provide advice.

Recovering from surgery can be challenging, and you will likely have a lot of ups and downs. When you have a bad day, try to maintain trust in the process, practice acceptance, and keep moving forward. Your physical therapist will be by your side every step of the way.

If you are in the market for a customized, innovative approach to physical therapy, please call Raritan Physical Therapy at (732) 662-4400 to schedule your initial assessment.

By | 2018-02-23T20:03:27+00:00 February 21st, 2018|Physical Therapy, physical therapy after surgery|

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