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How Prehab Can Affect Surgical Outcomes: Enhancing Recovery and Long-Term Health

June 7th, 2024 | 5 min. read

How Prehab Can Affect Surgical Outcomes: Enhancing Recovery and Long-Term Health
Caroline Pitts

Caroline Pitts

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, DPT // EW Pilates Instructor // EW Yoga Instructor // EW Balance Instructor // EW Motion Therapy Homewood

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Surgical interventions often come with an inevitable recovery period, whether minor or major. However, there is a proactive approach that can significantly influence surgical outcomes: prehabilitation, or prehab. Prehab involves preparing the body for surgery through a tailored exercise and health regimen, primarily physical therapy. We love helping our patients at EW Motion Therapy prepare their bodies and minds for surgery, getting clear on expectations, and assuaging their fears. You may decide that our services don’t fit your needs. However, you can still read this article as we explore the importance of prehab before surgery, the critical components of an effective prehab program, and how prehab seamlessly coordinates with rehabilitation (rehab) post-surgery to enhance overall recovery.


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Why prehab is important before surgery

Prehab is the process of enhancing an individual’s functional capacity before surgery to help them withstand the stress of the procedure and recover more effectively. It’s important to remember that not all bodies are the same, and not all surgeries are the same, so outcomes that are appropriate for some are not for others. Your outcome will likely vary, but prehab is a large predictor of positive outcomes from a procedure. Here’s why prehab is crucial:


  1. Improved physical condition: Just like athletes train before a competition, patients can better prepare their bodies for surgery. Strengthening muscles, improving cardiovascular health, and enhancing flexibility can make the body more resilient.
  2. Reduced complications: A body in better physical condition can heal more efficiently, leading to fewer postoperative complications, such as infections, prolonged hospital stays, and slower wound healing.
  3. Enhanced mental preparedness: Surgery can be stressful, and injuries can be detrimental to mental health, as they can prevent someone from participating in activities they love. Prehab programs often incorporate mental wellness strategies, such as mindfulness and stress reduction techniques, which can help patients manage anxiety, stay active, and foster a positive mindset heading into surgery.
  4. Shortened recovery time: Patients who engage in prehab can often return to normal activities faster. Their bodies are better equipped to handle the stress of surgery and bounce back more quickly.
  5. Better surgical outcomes: Ultimately, prehab can improve surgical outcomes, including improved function and reduced pain post-surgery. This can lead to a higher quality of life and greater satisfaction with the surgical procedure.


Important elements of any prehab program

A well-rounded prehab program is customized to the individual’s needs and the type of surgery they will undergo. However, several key components are usually important. Your physical therapist will ensure that the essential components that best fit you and your procedure are in your prehab treatment plan.


Physical exercise

  1. Strength training: Building muscle strength can help support the body during the postoperative period. Depending on your needs, focus areas often include addressing muscle imbalances or muscles that will give support during the rehabilitation process.
  2. Cardiovascular conditioning: Aerobic exercises such as walking, swimming, or cycling can improve heart and lung health and make recovery easier.
  3. Flexibility and balance training: Stretching and balance exercises can enhance mobility and reduce the risk of falls and other injuries after surgery.



  1. Balanced diet: Proper nutrition is vital for healing. A diet rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals supports tissue repair and boosts the immune system.
  2. Hydration: Staying well-hydrated aids in overall bodily functions and can help mitigate common postoperative issues like constipation.


Mental health and education

  1. Stress management: Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga can help reduce anxiety.
  2. Psychological support: Counseling or support groups can provide emotional support and help patients mentally prepare for surgery.
  3. Understanding the procedure: Patients should be well-informed about what to expect before, during, and after surgery. This knowledge can reduce anxiety and improve cooperation during recovery.
  4. Setting realistic goals: Knowing what to expect regarding recovery timelines and milestones can help manage expectations and motivate patients.


Coordinating prehab with rehab after surgery

The benefits of prehab extend beyond the pre-surgical phase and seamlessly integrate with postoperative physical therapy. Here’s how prehab coordinates with rehab to enhance recovery:


  1. Continuity of care: Patients who engage in prehab are already familiar with exercise routines and health practices. This familiarity makes the transition to postoperative rehab smoother as they continue many of the same activities and build upon their pre-surgery progress.
  2. Faster progression: Early mobilization is crucial for preventing complications like blood clots and muscle atrophy. Additionally, the physical and mental preparation from prehab can lead to greater motivation and adherence to rehab programs, which are essential for successful recovery.
  3. Comprehensive recovery: Prehab promotes a holistic approach to health, addressing physical, nutritional, and psychological needs. This comprehensive care continues into the rehab phase, ensuring all aspects of recovery are covered. Also, the habits and routines established during prehab can lead to long-term lifestyle changes that support overall health and well-being beyond the immediate postoperative period.
  4. Customized rehabilitation plans: Just as prehab programs are tailored to individual needs, rehab plans can address specific recovery goals and challenges. This individualized approach maximizes the effectiveness of both prehab and rehab. Additionally, continuous monitoring during prehab and rehab allows healthcare providers to adjust plans as needed. This dynamic approach ensures that patients receive the best possible care at every stage of their recovery.


Prehabilitation is a powerful tool that can significantly influence surgical outcomes. By improving physical condition, reducing complications, and enhancing mental preparedness, prehab sets the stage for a successful surgery and a smoother recovery. The key components of an effective prehab program—physical exercise, nutrition, mental health, education, and respiratory training—prepare patients holistically for the challenges of surgery. Not every patient is appropriate for prehab, however, so be sure to discuss your needs with your doctor and obtain a referral if necessary.


Moreover, the seamless integration of prehab with postoperative rehab ensures continuity of care, faster progression, comprehensive recovery, and long-term health benefits. By investing in prehab, patients can take an active role in their health journey, leading to better surgical outcomes and improved quality of life. Whether you are facing a minor procedure or a major surgery, consider the significant advantages of prehabilitation as a proactive step toward optimal recovery. You deserve a trusted professional to walk alongside you as you prepare for and recover from your procedure - we consider it a privilege at EW Motion Therapy to do this for our patients daily. If you’re curious how much your physical therapy might cost, click the button below to download our free pricing guide.


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