Does Physical Therapy Work for Surgery Prehab?

Pre-surgery PT can prep your mind and body for faster healing
By Lily Beltran
Does Physical Therapy Work for Surgery Prehab?

They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you have a serious knee injury such as a torn ACL or require a total knee replacement, you may need that pound of cure in the form of surgery. Yet a few ounces of physical therapy before surgery—called prehab physical therapy—can shorten your hospital stay and speed recovery.

Researchers in Ohio reviewed thousands of Medicare cases involving total knee or hip replacement and found that nearly 80% of patients who did not receive pre-surgical PT required post-acute care services. For patients who completed even a small number of physical therapy sessions before their surgery, that rate dropped to 54.2%. The study’s authors estimated a 29% reduction in postoperative care use among the patients who participated in prehab PT.

Why Does Prehab PT Work?

In the study, most patients only participated in one or two prehab physical therapy sessions. The researchers noted this fact “suggests that the value of preoperative physical therapy was primarily due to patient training on postoperative assistive walking devices, planning for recovery, and managing patient expectations, and not from multiple intensive training sessions to develop strength and range of motion.” 

Dr. Camille Clinton of Seattle’s ProOrtho group says, “I involve all my patients preoperatively with their PT. The continuity afterward is fantastic for my clients’ outcomes and function.”

Removing the Fear

Surgery is stressful and, quite honestly, a little frightening. Your physical therapist can help you fight the fear by creating a postoperative plan for rehabilitation. That way, you can stay focused on healing and know what to expect moving forward. 

“One of the most important goals achieved in preoperative physical therapy is demystifying the unknown,” says Luna’s resident PT, Ben Wobker. “The number of new experiences, sensations, and terminology can all be a little daunting. To have a PT there to walk you through the steps beforehand is all the more helpful.”

Less Pain, More Strength

According to the experts at the OPA Ortho & UW Medicine, prehab physical therapy can also help:

  • Relieve pain
  • Increase stamina
  • Reduce complications from your surgery
  • Restore your range of motion

What’s more, you can regain strength, flexibility, and motion in your joints and muscles near the injured area before your surgery. Research shows that this leads to faster recovery and better outcomes. Wobker adds, “The surgeries I attend every year have a similar discussion in the OR. ‘What was the preoperative range of motion (ROM)?’ That answer is many times a large indicator of postoperative outcomes and success.”

My Surgery Is in Two Weeks...Can PT Still Help?

Yes! The sooner you can see your PT, the more benefits you’ll receive from your prehab physical therapy. Since it can take an average of 26 days to be seen in a clinic, you may want to consider on-demand physical therapy. With Luna on-demand PT, for example, you can start treatment immediately. 

And if you’re awaiting surgery, chances are good you don’t want—or have the ability—to get around. With on-demand physical therapy, your PT comes to your door, so you can receive care when and where works best for you. “My physical therapist from Luna is great!” says Lily B. of Menlo Park, California. “She comes to my home which is ideal and convenient for me.”

Sandra M. of Los Angeles agrees, saying, “It was great being in the privacy of my own home receiving the help that I need.”

If you’re facing surgery for your sports injury or total knee replacement, consider on-demand physical therapy for prehab. You’ll be on the road to recovery more quickly and back to doing what you love.  

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