As some of you may know, I recently underwent left hip surgery a little over 6 weeks ago. During the procedure, they repaired torn cartilage, shaved bone off my hip, shaved bone off my femur, and smoothed out torn cartilage directly on my hip bone. The reason I had this surgery was due to an old sports injury back in my hay day. I had performed various bouts of physical therapy over the years in order to reduce pain, regain full strength, avoid surgery, and return to activities that I love to do. Unfortunately, the damage within my hip was beyond the scope that physical therapy could heal in order for me to return to high level activities such as heavy weight lifting, running, basketball, and other similar activities.
As a PT, I treat patients everyday who have undergone surgery and are progressing through rehab. Having undergone surgery myself and starting the long road to recovery has given me a chance to reflect on what it is like to be the patient. The following are key lessons/principles to keep in mind as a patient during the rehab process:
- PT first. Since I am a physical therapist, you may or may not call me biased here. However, let me propose to you why you should always try PT before surgery. There have been extensive research studies performed showing equal outcomes when comparing PT versus surgery for select injuries. In addition to those results, PT is always much less inexpensive and tends to be more beneficial in the long-run with decreased risk of developing arthritis. Now here’s the kicker: PT is almost always superior when it comes to non-traumatic injuries — If you experience a traumatic injury such as an ACL tear or like what I did with my hip, surgery will likely be the best option. However, I would still contend you should perform physical therapy first because it will yield improved outcomes after surgery. The stronger you are going into surgery, the better you will do afterwards!
- It takes a lot of discipline to adhere to precautions and figure out alternative ways to shower or get dressed in the morning without causing harm to the surgeon’s handiwork. It also takes a lot of discipline to perform your rehab exercises faithfully. There have been times in which I have been tempted to skip my exercises, however, I expect my patients to do what I prescribe for them, so I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t do my own exercises! Just remember that all the hard work will pay off. The work you put in early in rehab will pave the road for the later parts of rehab. This is a relatively short time in your life, so put in the work!
- One of the most important lessons I can communicate to my patients undergoing a 6+ month rehab process is patience. Along with discipline, it takes a lot of patience to respect healing time frames and not push through rehab or return to sports/activities too quickly. This has been difficult for me because my personality type is a “go-getter.” I constantly push limits and need to be climbing some sort of ladder at all times. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it 110%. Undergoing a surgery has forced me to take a step back and remind myself that sometimes less is more, that it’s okay to not push myself to the limit early in rehab. It is also easy to get down on yourself or catastrophize about your pain when things get tough in rehab such as experiencing increased pain and soreness once more activity is introduced. Remind yourself that this is normal and have patience while you progress through this stage in your rehab!
Coming from both a PT and a patient, if you or a loved one have undergone a recent surgery, I hope these tips can help!