Prehab: Exercise Prior to Surgery Can Help You Recover Quickly


One in seven Americans undergoes a surgical procedure of some nature each year. While a surgeon’s skill is the most important determinant of the outcome of the procedure, a substantial part of how things turn out in the end depends on how committed you are to doing well.


One of the most important things that anyone can do to prepare for surgery is commit to an exercise plan. It’s called prehabilitation — a patient’s rehabilitation beginning prior to surgery. A patient who has done prehab is far more likely to bounce back without complications after surgery.

Exercise prior to surgery helps

Surgeries are scheduled weeks in advance. Patients, then, have time in which to get ready. Preparing with prehab can help your body become much healthier for surgery. With better exercise, your muscles and bones gain in mobility, meaning that after surgery, you will require less physical therapy. You will recover faster, and will get back to your life in very little time. While research available on the subject is limited, studies such as the paper The effectiveness of prehabilitation or preoperative exercise for surgical patients: a systematic review (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26447015) do show that recovery takes less time when patients practice prehab.

What kind of exercise is appropriate?

The kind of exercise that is appropriate depends greatly on the patient’s health and the kind of surgery planned for. A gentle exercise program done with the approval of the doctor is appropriate for most patients. Such a program could include light aerobic exercises such as cycling or walking, gentle weight training, and functional training (in which the patient reaches overhead, gets up from a chair, or does other activities that they might need to perform every day). The surgeon may be able to recommend a physical therapist who designs the right kind of program for different patients.

Things to keep in mind as you start

It’s important to keep a number of ideas in mind as you go into prehab:

•   Prehab exercise programs are usually a good idea to start about two months prior to surgery.

•   Talk to a doctor if you haven’t had exercise in a long time.

•   Talk to a physical therapist to make sure that your exercise plan is right for you.

•   To make sure that there is no injury, start very slow, with light exercise.

•   Get moving a little bit, at least. A little movement is better than none at all.

Getting surgery done can be challenging. Fortunately, prehab is something that you can do to make it easier. The more limber you are when you go in, the easier it will be when you come back out.