Preparing for surgery as an adult

As far as most people are concerned, there’s no such thing as “minor surgery” when it’s happening to us. Whether you’re having minor or major surgery, it’s always a good idea to prepare in advance according to the doctor’s recommendations.  Your doctor will tell you about the normal routine to avoid eating or drinking anything after midnight the evening before surgery. You’ll be told how to prepare your skin, and you’ll need someone to be with you before and after surgery if at all possible. There will be specific instructions so you can be ready for any post-operative needs with crutches or other equipment. Sometimes doctors will require a full check-up by your family doctor or maybe even a cardiac work-up for older adults. Those arrangements are common, but there’s still more that you can do to help yourself recover as quickly as possible.

Preparations that are under your own control include cessation of tobacco habits, weight control, nutrition, exercise and stress management. These are often overlooked but they are very important for the best outcome. Getting to a healthy body weight is always a good idea but this may be difficult when there are only a few weeks available before surgery – rapid voluntary weight loss should be avoided. Anyone who smokes tobacco will be advised to stop. Two weeks tobacco free makes a huge difference in lowering your risk of surgical complications and hopefully you’ll be able to stop permanently.

Stress management can also decrease the need for pain medications and help relieve any hidden or open anxiety about having surgery. Massage, music therapy, deep breathing, and guided imagery have been shown to decrease post-operative pain and help short-term recovery. These relaxation methods have also been shown to lower blood pressure and improve immune systems.

Increasing your exercise capacity prior to surgery is also an excellent way to improve your recovery. Even if you have pain in your hip, there are some aerobic activities you can do to improve your heart, lungs and metabolism. Swimming, upper body weight lifting, using an arm cycle, or even an elliptical machine are good exercises to prepare for surgery. Your doctor can help you choose exercises that you can do if you have limitations. There’s a growing list of scientific studies showing that modest exercise for several weeks before almost any type of surgery can decrease pain, improve recovery, and even decrease mortality. Just one hour of modest exercise three times a week can make a big difference in complication rates.

A healthy diet before surgery is essential. The optimum diet might include seven daily servings of fruits and vegetables plus three servings of whole grains or nuts plus three dairy servings and adequate protein. Protein is especially important before and after surgery so wounds can heal more quickly. Nutritional supplements have not been shown to improve healing for people with healthy food habits, but the majority of people in North America don’t have very healthy food habits. For most of us, some supplementation may help us achieve optimum levels of those nutrients. Extra vitamin C after surgery has been shown to help support healing of bones and ligaments but too much vitamin C right before surgery may thin the blood and increase bleeding. Many herbal extracts also interfere with blood clotting and should be avoided before and after surgery. Zinc levels drop rapidly after surgery and very low zinc levels are associated with increased surgical complications. Vitamin K can help maintain healthy blood clotting and also supports healthy bones and blood vessels. Vitamin D has been shown to support healing after bone surgery for most people, and extra dairy or calcium can be added for bone healing. However, it’s possible to take too much calcium so 500 mg supplement is generally enough after surgery. If there’s been major bleeding, the iron supplements for a short period of time are often recommended too. It’s not harmful to take a general multivitamin and some Omega-3 fish oil after surgery. However, it’s important to remember that supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet. Otherwise they would be called “substitutes” instead of “supplements”.