Why Consider Physical Therapy Before Surgery? Understanding Prehabilitation

In the ever-evolving landscape of orthopedic care, an emerging trend is reshaping the way patients approach surgery: prehabilitation, or “prehab.” This proactive approach involves therapeutic interventions before surgery, aiming to enhance strength, range of motion, and overall function. In this comprehensive guide, we explore the major benefits, the recommended candidates, the components of prehab, and its impact on recovery.

What are some major benefits of prehab?

Therapy prior to surgery is a growing trend amongst orthopedic patients to increase strength, range of motion, and function prior to surgery to allow for decreases in pain, strength loss, function, and recovery time.

Who do you recommend it for?  Specific types of patients, or all?

Most patients would benefit from some type of function specific strengthening/stretching prior to surgery regardless of diagnosis, surgical type, or age/mobility status. The only rare occasion that would prohibit a therapy program prior to surgery is if the injury/diagnosis is unstable and could possibly be made worse by mobility such as various types of fractures or severe tissue damage. Your doctor and therapist can work together to decide if therapy is right for you.

What does prehab look like? 

Prehab can be as simple as generalized stretching and postural exercises to remain mobile prior to surgery. It can also be more specific to target specific muscles/joints that will be addressed by the surgeon or specific supporting muscles that will aid in recovery, function, and pain reduction following surgery. Therapy is unique for each patient and depends on several things including physician preference, severity of the injury, type of surgery, and even insurance protocols.

What doctors are recommending it before surgery?

The most common doctors to recommend therapy prior to surgery are Orthopedic surgeons before performing joint replacements such as knee replacements or hip replacements as well as tendon/ligament repairs like an ACL reconstruction or a rotator cuff repair.

How long do you generally prehab before surgery?

Patients typically attend therapy for 4-6 weeks prior to surgery though this depends on several things including physician preference, severity of the injury, type of surgery, and even insurance/payer protocols.

What does recovery look like?

Initial therapy visits will emphasis pain and swelling control, improving range of motion, and increasing muscle activation, all depending on surgery/surgeon protocols and patient specific presentation/response to therapy. As healing progresses, so will the strengthening and stretching activities working towards return to function and patient specific goals.

How long does recovery take on a patient who used physical therapy before surgery compared to a patient who did not?

This varies based on the severity of the injury, complexity of the surgery performed, and the health of the individual, but improving strength, endurance, and range of motion prior to the date of surgery can reduce recovery time by weeks or even months.

If you are interested in learning more about prehab therapy, contact Lemoine Therapy Services at 318-704-0710 or visit our clinic pages to find a location nearest you!

Special thanks to our physical therapist at Lemoine Therapy in Alexandria, Stephan LeBlanc. Stephan LeBlanc joined the Lemoine Therapy team in November of 2017. Stephan is a graduate of the LSU Health Science Center in Shreveport, LA and is an active member of APTA and LPTA. His past experience has given him extensive knowledge in treating orthopedic and neurological conditions in adult and geriatric populations.


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