Post-operative Fatigue and How to Manage it

Anthony Lo

A common question that often comes up a week or two into physical therapy for patients who have undergone surgery is, “Why am I so tired?” or “Is it normal for me to be sleeping so much?” and the simple answer is, “Yes.” But why?

Surgery, whether minor or major, can take a toll on the body and as a result will expend energy and resources to begin healing which can be taxing to both musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary systems. Of course the more involved the procedure is, the more difficulty the body has in recovering (eg. Total knee replacement v. meniscectomy).

Additional factors to consider too are the environment you are currently rehabbing in (outpatient setting vs. inpatient setting), the types of medications prescribed post-operatively, as well as the degree/amount of anesthetics used. Furthermore, depending on what your doctor’s orders are in regards to post-operative protocols, your overall activity levels may be restricted for safety of yourself as well as the body part that was operated on. So how should a patient manage post-operative fatigue?

As mentioned earlier, surgery can take a toll on the body as a whole and as such rest should be prioritized initially when starting to rehab and recover. As time goes on you may find that you need to re-train your body in terms of your sleep cycle and appetite. Additionally, depending on the nature of the surgery and its’ protocol after, you will be cleared by your doctor to resume certain activities/exercises. If you are ever unsure of what you can or cannot do (both during rehab sessions and at home), it is often best to ask your doctor, physical therapist, or any other healthcare specialist that is actively involved with your rehabilitation. Furthermore, it might be wise to request (if not already provided by your doctor or therapist) exercises to do at home as well in order to further progress your recovery and keep you moving thereby decreasing opportunities to become sedentary. Managing these aspects of your recovery in addition to being patient and maintaining a positive outlook will help on your road to recovery!

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