The Benefits of “Pre-Habilitation”

If you’ve been living with back pain and have finally decided to seek help from our lumbar and cervical spine specialist in New Jersey, you’ll find that in most cases surgery is not the first thing that we discuss. It is our practice to seek the most effective course of action by first offering conservative protocols, and to only turn to surgery if those other approaches fail.

One of the benefits of this philosophy is that it gives out patients who may eventually be headed fo surgery with the opportunity to engage in “pre-habilitation.”

Pre-habilitation is a program of exercise and conditioning meant to improve your physical and mental wellbeing prior to surgery with the goal of improving outcomes. It has been proven to make a significant difference in patients’ ability to bounce back quickly.

According to Vonda Wright, MD, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Sports Medicine, “Fifty percent of outcome success is due to the surgeon, and the other 50 percent is due to the patient’s commitment to recovery – starting with pre-hab.”

As a formal program, prehab usually lasts for about three months prior to surgery, and at least six weeks. It can consist of walking, water and land-based strength training, flexibility exercises and improving nutrition and other aspects of health.  A study found that when knee and hip replacement surgery patients participated in this type of program, their need for inpatient rehabilitation dropped by 73 percent.

According to lead study author Daniel Rooks, PHD, former clinical research investigator and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, “Even in a fairly brief time period, the exercise paid off for the participants. Their level of function and pain stabilized prior to surgery, whereas those who did not exercise got worse. The benefits of exercise before surgery are very clear.”

Even when a pre-habilitation program is done on a casual basis, it makes a big difference. Patients are faster to get up on their feet; they have improved strength to help them achieve recovery milestones; they are able to breathe more easily following intubation; they have shorter hospital stays and are more likely to be discharged rather than to remain in the hospital overnight. They also require fewer outpatient rehab sessions.

If you are going to be undergoing spinal surgery to improve lumbar or cervical spine issues, engaging in your own program of pre-habilitation can make a big difference in your outcome and recovery time, as well as in your general outlook about your readiness for your surgery.

Patients should think about the process in the same way that they would preparing themselves to participate in any other significant physical undertaking: you wouldn’t decide to run a 5K without training, would you?

You can improve your outcomes and recovery by optimizing your overall health, range of motion, strength and function. That doesn’t mean you have to do anything overly strenuous or time consuming, but if you start taking daily walks, eat healthy and stay hydrated, quit smoking and learn exactly what to expect from your surgery, you will find the process much less intrusive and have an overall better experience.

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