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Live Your Best Life — How to Approach Surgery Recovery

By Eliza Laycock
Physiotherapist at Life Ready Physio + Pilates Cockburn

The leading operation performed in Australia is abdominal surgery, closely followed by joint surgery. In 2016/17, there were 53,000 knee and 32,000 hip replacements performed. 

Surgery can be a daunting experience. There are a number of complications that can occur both during the operation and post-operatively. Some of these include:

  • Skin/surgical site infection 
  • Pain 
  • Chest infection 
  • Muscle weakness 
  • Joint stiffness 
  • Reduced cardiorespiratory fitness 

Prior to any operation, the patient and surgeon will sit down to discuss some key factors. These include, but are not limited to

  • Why you are a suitable candidate for the operation
  • What the operation entails
  • How long your operation stay is
  • How long your recovery is
  • What to expect in terms of return to work/sport 
  • Any changes to your lifestyle, post operation 

It is important to understand all aspects of your surgical procedure to avoid being fearful and stressed in the lead up to the procedure. 

Here are five key questions that will be useful to ask your surgeon and/or physiotherapist before your operation:

  1. Do I need to do anything before my surgery? This is particularly relevant for joint surgeries as evidence shows that increased strength pre-operation will assist recovery after surgery.
  2. How long will I be in hospital for?
  3. What will I be doing after my surgery? Although surgery is a huge process for your body to go through, being upright and out of bed ‘day one’ after surgery will greatly reduce your risk of postoperative complications. Most patients will walk either around their bed or around the ward after surgery.
  4. Do I need any aids after surgery? You may require crutches post surgery, if you are seeing a physiotherapist, ask them to show you how to walk in them before your surgery so you know what to expect.
  5. How soon after surgery can I return to normal function? For a large amount of surgeries you will be referred to a physiotherapist post surgery. It is our role to get you back to your previous level of function post surgery. It is best to discuss time frames individually for each surgery. 

A recent meta analysis conducted on recovery for post total hip and knee replacement found that multidisciplinary rehab following surgery can improve the level of functional activity. This allows the patient to recover within a shorter time frame. 

For the majority of patients, a total knee or hip replacement is performed to reduce pain in an arthritic joint. As such, the muscles around the joint may already be weak due to reduced activity because the joint is painful. Therefore, even though the surgery will help reduce the arthritis and pain in the joint, the surgery cannot help restore muscle strength and function. This is the role of post-op physio and a post-operative care program.

Immediately following your surgery, you will be given some gentle exercises to perform in the hospital and when you are discharged. To avoid the problem mentioned above, it is important to perform the exercises. Once the post-operative pain settles and you feel more mobile, you will be ready to progress on from those exercises. This is a good time to book an appointment with a physiotherapist. They can help restore your muscle strength and get you back on your feet! 

If you’re in need of physical therapy to speed up surgery recovery or to address another challenge, book an appointment today


Burgess, L. C., Immins, T., & Wainwright, T. W. (2018). What is the role of post-operative physiotherapy in general surgical Enhanced Recovery after Surgery pathways? European Journal of Physiotherapy21(2), 67-72. doi:10.1080/21679169.2018.1468813


Khan, F., Ng, L., Gonzalez, S., Hale, T., & Turner-Stokes, L. (2008). Multidisciplinary rehabilitation programmes following joint replacement at the hip and knee in chronic arthropathy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd004957.pub3 Osteoarthritis. (2019, August 30). Retrieved from


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