Recovering from Your Surgery

This guide provides you and your family with information you need to reduce complications during your hospitalization and to make the best recovery from your surgery.

Post-Operative Activity Guidelines

After surgery, you may be uncomfortable or have pain. It is critical that you move, take deep breaths, and cough. These early activities can help remove congestion from your lungs and prevent pneumonia.

Deep Breathing and Coughing

Because of pain after surgery, patients often do not take deep breaths, causing mucus to collect in the lungs. By taking deep breaths, you cough mucus out and prevent it from collecting. You should continue deep-breathing exercises throughout your hospital stay.

Deep-Breathing Exercises

The most comfortable position for taking deep breaths is on your back with the head of the bed slightly raised. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Do each of the following exercises 10 times each hour you are awake:

  1. Put your hand on your abdomen between your stomach and chest. Your hand should feel like it's on top of an inflating balloon. Now let the air out through your mouth by relaxing.
  2. Put your hands on the sides of your chest. As you take a deep breath, try to make your hands spread away from each other on either side of your chest. Now let the air out through your mouth by relaxing.
  3. A plastic breathing device called a Triflo may be given to you after surgery. The Triflo has three blue balls inside a clear plastic box. Make the balls rise by sucking air into your chest as you would suck on a straw. The light blue ball comes up first, followed by the medium blue ball, and finally the dark blue ball. Try to hold up as many balls as possible, then relax, and let the balls drop.
Nurse helping patient in bed.

Coughing Exercises

The most comfortable position in which to cough is sitting upright. Hold a pillow or rolled-up blanket against your stitches or staples. This may make coughing easier. When you cough, relax your neck and shoulders. Cough from your belly, not from your throat. Bending your knees may also make coughing more comfortable. Cough two or three times, then rest. Do not be afraid to cough. Your incision is firmly held together by stitches or staples.

Moving in Bed

Any movement may be painful or uncomfortable, but moving in bed is very important. You should change your position at least every two hours to prevent your skin from getting too much pressure. This can lead to pressure sores.

Leg Exercises

Do each exercise while lying on your back with your legs straight in front of you on the mattress. You can stop doing these exercises when you start walking outside your room at least four times a day.

  1. Keeping your legs on the mattress, draw circles with your toes. Move your foot at the ankle. Do this five times in each direction.
  2. Pump your feet up and down like you would press on a gas pedal. You can pump with both feet at the same time.
  3. Slide one foot up towards your buttocks and back down. Now do the same with your other leg.
  4. Keeping your knees straight, slide one leg at a time out to the edge of the mattress and back to the center.

Getting Out of Bed

Getting out of bed is usually difficult after surgery, but it is very important in order to avoid problems from inactivity. The first time you get out of bed, you should have someone there to help you in case you feel dizzy or weak. Follow these steps to make it easier:

  1. Roll onto your side, slide your legs over the edge of the bed, and push up with your arms. This puts less stress on your stomach muscles and uses the weight of your legs to help you sit up.
  2. To stand from the edge of the bed, push down with your arms and stand up. Stand still for a minute to make sure you are balanced and not dizzy. If you have an IV pole, use it for support while you are walking. The first time you walk have someone with you for safety.
  3. If you continue to have difficulty getting out of bed or walking, the doctor may have a physical therapist work with you and/or your family on exercising or using an assistive device to help you walk.

Individualized Care

At the University of Chicago, we see each patient as an individual with his/her own concerns. We also know that each situation and procedure is different. Your surgeon will give you more specific instructions regarding your post-operative activity or restrictions. Please feel free to ask your doctor, nurse, or physical therapist for more detailed information. Make notes and call at any time with questions.


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