post-surgery Rehab: Exercises for a Safe Recovery

Woman doing post surgery rehab exercises 

Anyone who has ever had surgery has probably experienced the temptation to stay curled up in bed during recovery. While that is sometimes what the doctor orders, it is more likely your surgeon will insist that you begin physical therapy within a few days. This is because post-surgery rehabilitation improves blood circulation to the site of the injury (helping you to heal faster) and reduces the likelihood of re-injury by helping you regain your strength and range of motion. 

After surgery care is different for everyone. For example, rehabilitation for hip surgery recovery is going to be very different than rehabilitation for back surgery recovery. But generally, whether you recover in a rehabilitation center or at home, it is important to work with a trained and licensed physical therapist who has created a treatment plan just for you. 

Your physical therapist will probably start you off with simple exercises that gradually increase as you continue to recover. Read on to get an idea of the post-surgery exercises that may be recommended depending on the type of injury you have. 

Post hip replacement surgery exercises

Recovery from hip replacement surgery takes several months, though the exact time varies from person to person. Your physical therapist will give you rehabilitation exercises geared toward increasing hip strength and protecting your new joint. These exercises may include: 

  • Hip abduction – Lie on your non-operated side with a pillow between your knees. Raise your operated leg up a few inches and hold.  
  • Stair climbing and descending – Lead up the stairs with your good leg and down with your operated leg. Be sure to use the handrails in the early days of recovery.
  • Walking – You will need to start with a cane and may only be able to walk for a couple of minutes at a time in the beginning. Your physical therapist may recommend that you work your way up to 20 to 30 minutes 2 to 3 times per day. 


Post knee surgery exercises

One of the most common athletic injuries involves the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which runs diagonally through the middle of the knee. Most ACL injuries are partial or complete tears of this ligament.  Surgery is often required to restore knee stability, and recovery takes 6 months or more. Physical therapy is a must for regaining strength and motion in the knee. Rehabilitative knee exercises may include: 

  • Passive knee extension – Sit in a chair and place your heel on another chair of equal height. Relax your leg and allow the knee to straighten. 
  • Straight leg raises – Lie down on your back with both legs out straight. Bend the non-operated leg to 90 degrees. Contract the quads on your operated leg and slowly lift the leg. Hold at 6 inches for a couple of counts and then lower the leg slowly. 
  • Heel slides – Sit on the floor with both legs out straight. Bend the knee of your operated leg by sliding your heel slowly across the floor toward you. 

Post spinal surgery exercises 

Most types of spinal surgery are done to relieve nerve pain in the back. Compressed nerves in the spine may be the result of herniated discs or bone spurs from osteoarthritis. Spinal surgery is usually only considered an option after other methods have failed to relieve the pain or numbness caused by these compressed nerves. Rehabilitation from spinal surgery requires physical therapy to restore your body’s alignment, balance, and stabilization. Post spinal surgery exercises will vary depending on the type of injury and surgery, but they may include: 

  • Nerve stretch – Lie on your back with both legs stretched out. Lift one leg until you feel the stretch in the back of your thigh and through your hip. Place your hands behind the knee to support your raised leg and pump your ankle back and forth. Keep the knee still. 
  • Bridge – Lie on your back with your knees bent at 90 degrees. Lift your hips off the floor, keeping a straight line from your shoulders to your hips.   
  • Upper body extension – Lie on your stomach and slowly raise your head and shoulders a couple of inches off the ground by squeezing your shoulder blades together. Keep your neck straight and your gaze down at the floor throughout the exercise. 


Post shoulder surgery exercises

A torn rotator cuff may require surgery, particularly for athletes such as pitchers and swimmers who frequently use the arm overhead. Individuals who experience persistent pain and weakness in the shoulder due to a torn rotator cuff and have found no relief with non-surgical treatment may also opt for surgery. Physical therapy exercises for shoulder rehabilitation are designed to restore motion and flexibility. Post shoulder surgery exercises may include: 

  • Shoulder forward elevation – While sitting or lying down, clasp your hands together and lift your arms above your head, keeping your elbows straight. Hold for a count of 10. Then slowly lower your arms. 
  • Walk up exercise – Keeping your elbows straight, crawl your fingers up a wall as high as you can without pain. Hold for a count of 10. 
  • Pendulum, circular – Bend forward 90 degrees at the waist, holding onto a table with your non-operated hand for support. Allow your operated arm to dangle. Rock your body in a circular motion so that your operated arm moves clockwise 10 times and then counterclockwise 10 times. The arm stays relaxed but is moved by the rocking motion of your body. 

Recover and rehabilitate with Bella Vista

At Bella Vista Health Center, our short-term rehabilitation facility provides a safe, welcoming environment where patients can receive the care they need to achieve full recovery from injury and surgery. Our skilled and compassionate physical therapists provide individualized treatment plans designed to aid in pain management, improve strength, and restore balance and mobility. If you’re looking for a rehabilitation center for yourself or a loved one seeking after-surgery care, you’ve come to the right place. 

For more information about our short-term rehabilitation services or physical therapy programs, give us a call at (619) 644-1000.