UNC Health Talk

5 Tips for a Smooth Recovery After Surgery

If you’re scheduled to have surgery, you’ll want to take steps to prepare for it to help ensure you have a successful operation. There are also steps you can take after surgery to heal faster and return to the things you love.

UNC Health trauma and acute care surgery nurse educator Beth Schreiber, RN, suggests these five tips to increase your chances of a healthy, speedy recovery.

1. Rest—give your body time to heal.

After surgery, you may need to recover for two to three weeks or longer, depending on the procedure. Even if you start to feel better, don’t jump back into your old activities at your former pace. Follow your healthcare team’s advice for how long you need to take it easy.

“Be sure to follow the instructions your care team provides you,” Schreiber says.

For example, if your doctor tells you not to do intense exercise or lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for the first few weeks after surgery, listen. Those instructions are provided to make sure you heal properly so you can do the things you want and need to do later.

Also, if you’re touching your incision, such as to change bandages or clean it, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and follow all instructions to prevent infection or injury.

2. Line up help, starting with a ride home.

After surgery, you will not be able to drive yourself home, especially if you’ve had anesthesia.

Reach out to a friend or loved one to arrange a ride home. You also may need assistance with daily tasks after surgery, such as cooking, laundry and pet care.

If you are a parent, you may need help caring for your children after surgery. If you do not have someone to help, paid help is an option if you can afford it. You can also ask hospital social workers to help identify support services.

3. Maintain good nutrition.

You can heal your body with food, so focus on proper nutrition. Eat as many fruits and vegetables as you can, as well as whole grains and lean proteins. Eat regularly to keep up your strength.

“Drink lots of water and eat a healthy diet after surgery to help promote healing and minimize complications,” Schreiber says.

While you’re healing, don’t drink alcohol, especially if you’re taking painkillers or other medications. Mixing alcohol and medications can be dangerous. If you’ve been prescribed narcotic painkillers, try to taper off them as soon as you can to reduce the risk of dependency. Your doctor or pharmacist can give you guidance on how to do this.

4. Get in some steps.

If you’re able, try to get up and walk at least a few times per day, even if it’s just a short walk.

“Walking after surgery is one of the most important things you can do after having a procedure,” Schreiber says.

Walking can help prevent serious complications such as blood clots, and it helps get your bowels moving, which is helpful since anesthesia can cause constipation.

While walking is recommended, avoid strenuous activities, such as jogging and fitness classes, until you get the all-clear from your healthcare team. Don’t swim until your wound is completely closed.

5. If you have any concerns, call your doctor.

Your doctor is your best resource for any post-surgery problems, even if it’s not time for your follow-up appointment.

If you have a temperature of 101.5 degrees or greater, increased pain, issues with your incisions, abnormal swelling, redness or drainage, call your doctor.

“If you have anything that you’re concerned about, call us,” Schreiber says. “We always try to make sure patients have our office phone number when they’re discharged. Even if we’re not in the office, we’re frequently checking our messages.”


Think you might need surgery? Talk to your doctor or find one near you