When conservative treatments no longer ease symptoms, doctors may recommend surgery to fix a knee injury. After surgery, patients typically have a period of rehabilitation for a few weeks to strengthen the affected limb, improve function and increase range of motion.
Now, some experts are recommending a preparatory program before surgery, called prehabilitation, or prehab. There are many reasons prehab makes sense. When a patient is injured, he/she may not be able to fully use the affected limb and the muscles may become weaker. A person may compensate for the pain and weakness by changing the way he/she uses the limb. The brain adapts to this new pattern and, after surgery, has a harder time learning how to undo the adaptation. In prehab, therapists work to reduce the pain, inflammation and swelling, prevent stiffness and strengthen the muscles involved.
Robert Gotlin, D.O., a Sports Medicine Specialist at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, says prehab aims to make the body as physically fit as possible before surgery. Strengthening exercises and stretching are a big part of the program. Patients learn how to prepare their body nutritionally as well. Gotlin says surgery takes a toll on the body, so patients need to eat a good diet beforehand to help build muscle stores.
Another part of prehab is education. Many times patients are so focused on their injury and getting better they donít think to ask about the details of recovery. During prehab, a therapist or physician can give patients more information about the surgery and realistic details about what to expect during recovery. Patients are also encouraged to talk to others who have had similar surgeries to compare their expectations and experiences.
Gotlin says prehab prepares the body, physically and mentally, for surgery. Patients who have the benefit of a prehab program tend to recover faster, require less pain medication and spend 75 percent less time in the hospital.