Men: If You’re About To Have Surgery, Think “Prehab”

Most of us expect a certain amount of rehab after a major surgery – but how many follow a “prehab” program before the operation?

Good prehab gives you the best chance for a successful recovery, and study after study has shown that men are less compliant with treatment programs than women. Since June 11-18 is Men’s Health Week, we decided to focus on tips for men headed for the operating room.

The best advice often comes from someone with firsthand experience, and we talked to Judson Park resident Don Kuhn, who underwent a knee transplant at Hillcrest Hospital in early 2016. According to Don, the formula is simple: compliance and commitment.

“I had a good recovery because I worked hard to do whatever I could to ensure a good outcome,” says Don, who has lived at Judson Park with his wife, Dorothy, for about five years. First, he suggests men educate themselves about their surgeries and recovery. Hillcrest provided several classes and a book that taught patients what to expect after the surgery, and how they should prepare for it. “I read that book cover to cover,” Don says.

Don firmly believes that the most important aspect of prehab for men is exercise, because joints heal best when the muscles surrounding them are strong. “One of the problems with men is that they’ll say, ‘Oh, these moves are so simple and easy, what good is this – I’m not going to bother.’ So they don’t, and for them, recovery isn’t such a good experience.” But even the simplest exercises – flexing your ankles, toe raises, leg extensions – are effective. “My therapist even had me flexing my buttocks,” Don says, chuckling. “She said she wanted me to have buns of steel.”

The exercises were no problem for Don because, he says, “I’m physically active anyway. I didn’t have to think about it; I just added the therapy to what I already do.” (He’s being modest: Don exercises at least once a day.)

Still, Don discovered much during his prehab that he hadn’t known before. “For one thing, I had to learn to walk with a cane – step down with the bad [leg], up with the good.” He also learned the importance of working with a cane and walker that are the right size. “Don’t go to Aunt Agnes and borrow her cane because hers might not be the best size, and you need to walk normally,” he advises. “You don’t want to teeter from side to side as you walk. That’s really important going up and down stairs with a cane.”

Diet counts, too, and Don, who “eats pretty well anyway,” changed his eating habits slightly for several months before his surgery. He took iron supplements recommended by his doctor, and started eating more red meat and beans. “You need good iron sources to build muscle, and meat and beans give you that,” he says. “But you don’t want to eat that way for the rest of your life.”

Don recommends prepping your home environment, too, before surgery. A few of his best tips:

  • Be sure you have at least one solid chair, with arms and no casters, in each room. They’ll be safer and easier for sitting and standing than upholstered furniture or straight chairs with no arms.
  • Install grab bars near your toilet and in the shower. A shower chair helps, too, and always use a bath mat.
  • Get rid of “trippers” around your home – throw rugs, cords and footstools – and clear a path from your bed to the bathroom.
  • Small pets can be a tripper, too. Create a strategy for keeping them out of your way.

As your surgery date approaches, plan to be just as committed to your post-operation rehab. “You need to do the therapy,” Don says. “It will be painful and you need to get past that – and the only way to get rid of the pain is to do the therapy.” Don’s post-operation rehab was not only effective, it was super-convenient: he chose the Judson Health Center at Judson Park. It was only steps from home and easy for his wife, Dottie, to visit him while he recovered. His therapist, “George,” cheered him on during their three-times-a-week routines, “which helped shorten my recovery time,” he says. Because he made such fast progress, Don adds, he actually looked forward to their sessions.

Not every man facing surgery needs to put quite as much effort into his prehab as Don; he gets up at 4:30 a.m. every day so he can exercise at his fitness club when the doors open at 5:30. “A number of seniors work out then,” he says. “They’re like another family. A lot of research shows that people who exercise early in the day are more likely to stick with it.”

If you put off exercises until later in the day, “chances are something will get in the way” and you’ll skip the exercises. But, he adds, if you enjoy physical activity in the afternoon, then that’s when you should work out. “The important thing is, if you’re doing prehab, pick a time when you feel best and just do it.”

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