I'm finally recovered after my surgery! Here are my suggestions about post-operative healing based on research and my own personal experience. :) Thought I would share for other people who are healing from surgery.
Your body is a self-healing machine, it knows how to repair itself. With the proper nutrition, rest, exercise, and circulation, you can get yourself back on track faster.
- Physical exercise/rehabilitation: After your surgery, WALK, WALK, WALK (as long as your doctor says it's ok)! Bring a nurse or friend with you in case you need assistance. I know it's SO painful, but when you are bedridden, your digestive system basically slows down or stops. It won't start moving again until you start walking around. You need to get your circulation and your digestive system going again quickly. It will help decrease the inflammation, help get your blood flowing and also help prevent you from getting blood clots in your legs. Don't go back to your "normal" exercise routine until your doctor says it's ok.
Another serious problem from surgeries are adhesions (when your scar tissue adheres to an adjacent organ or tissue, causing pain or other complications, some of them quite serious). Because I had surgery to the intestines, I was afraid of adhesions causing bowel obstruction. While I don't know if this helped or not, I made sure to walk EVERYDAY as much as I felt comfortable doing, slowly increasing the amount every day, to make sure my bowels, circulation, and everything else kept moving.
If you are instructed to do any kind of physical therapy (PT) to get your range of motion back, DO IT! Otherwise, you could permanently lose range of motion in the affected area.
If you had abdominal/laparoscopic surgery like I did, you know that the gas that they put into your abdominal area from surgery can cause serious gas pains that radiate up to your shoulder (sometimes more painful than the surgery itself! ). Another reason that you need to WALK - walking helps the gas get out faster.
- Follow your doctor's instructions: A common sense warning, but most people don't follow it. Support your injured area when doing any kind of movements that cause strain. For abdominal surgery patients, laying down and sitting up can be very painful. Roll onto your side and prop yourself up with your arms to avoid strain on the abdominal muscles. Also, support your abdominal area with your hands or a pillow if you laugh, cough, or sneeze.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help! :Don't be shy to ask your nurse to help you get to the bathroom, to help you put your clothes on, or for any help you might need. You might feel uncomfortable having a stranger help you with things that seem very intimate, but believe me, they have seen much worse! Simple tasks like going to the bathroom or taking a shower are going to be very painful and difficult for a few days after your surgery. Your body will be in a very delicate state. Forcing yourself to do something you are not ready to do might tear and pull at your wounds, complicating your healing even more.
Also, if you have any questions about the post-healing process, don't be afraid to call your doctor or surgeon. Don't skip any post-op appointments. Some post-operative complications are quite serious, so if you develop a fever, unusual swelling, redness/rash, or have a lot of oozing from your incisions, call right away.
- Don't be a martyr: Take your prescribed pain medication. Your body actually heals SLOWER when you are in pain. If you use adequate pain control, you will heal faster. If the pain medication makes you nauseous, have your doctor prescribe anti-nausea medication or eat fresh or candied ginger or ginger ale. Also, take a stool softener (like Miralax) as a precaution, because opiate pain medications like morphine, hydrocodone and oxycodone are known to cause very severe constipation (this might be even further complicated if you are not walking around).
- Try to maintain a good attitude:I know that's harder than it sounds when you're in pain. But having friends and family there for support, or even joking around with the nurses makes you feel better. Look on the bright side, your surgery is over, it went well, and soon you'll be on the mend! A positive attitude helps you heal faster, too.
- Self-hypnosis and meditation for healing and pain relief:If you have an iPhone, download Andrew Johnson's "Healing" self-hypnosis app, which is a guided self-hypnosis that focuses on self-healing. Hypnosis and meditation are also good distractors from pain.
- Eat healthy: yeah, I know, that's kind of hard in a hospital with all the processed junk food. Have a friend or family member bring you something rich in fruits and vegetables like a leafy salad so you can get healthy doses of Vitamin A and C (both known to speed healing). When you are home, eat as many fruits and veggies as possible until you are fully healed. Your body will really need it more than ever. Avoid processed fats (yep, no junk food), which interfere with healthy cell construction.
- Get lots of rest: After surgery, you are going to feel a lot sleepier than normal. That's completely normal. Your body is trying to repair itself. For about a week or two after surgery I had to take a nap or two everyday - and some of my "naps" would be 4 hours long! Don't limit your sleep - your body will tell you how much it needs. Give yourself as much time off from work as possible to recover.
- Get some sun! : Sunlight accelerates wound healing quite dramatically, probably by producing vitamin D in the skin. Patients who are exposed to sunlight heal far faster than those who are not. Try to take some walks outdoors with a friend or nurse.
- Zinc: Best taken prior to surgery, zinc reduces wound healing time, rapidly reduces wound size, and bolsters immunity to help ward off infection. Topical zinc, such as calamine lotion, also inhibits bacteria growth on the surface of skin, helping to prevent infection (diaper rash creams? Yes, those are zinc creams. I also recommend Avene's Cicalfate cream, another good zinc-based cream that I apply everyday after strong chemical peels). As zinc deficiency is common in the United States, most doctors recommend 30 mg/day, taken orally for four to six weeks, to bring your levels up to par before surgery. If you undergo surgery in a zinc deficient state, your recovery time will be lengthened, so be sure to test and supplement your zinc levels, if necessary, well before any planned surgical procedures.
- Vitamin C: I noticed that after my surgery, I had a craving for citrus fruits. Well no wonder - another important component for full post-operative recovery is vitamin C. According to the Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, levels of this vital compound actually drop in burn victims, post-op patients, and other victims of physical trauma. The minimum required intake of vitamin C to maintain healthy bodily function is about 300mg to 1g per day following surgery or other procedures.
Vitamin C is required to make collagen, the connective tissue in the skin that helps healing and prevents blistering. Vitamin C strengthens scar tissue and also helps reduce tissue death after burns. It also helps to strengthen the immune system and fight off infection.
But don't take processed, synthetic forms of the vitamin. Ascorbic acid is not the same thing as full-spectrum vitamin C. Get your vitamin C from nutritional supplements or superfoods made from plants. (I used Emergen-C packets, they contain both zinc and Vitamin C. You can also apply Vitamin C topically to help speed wound healing.
- Vitamin A/Beta Carotine - another important vitamin to speed wound healing. I drank carrot juice a lot after my surgery and ate lots of fresh, leafy greens.
- Aloe Vera Juice - My surgery was to remove my appendix, which is part of your intestines, and I had some post-surgery pain and inflammation to my intestines after the surgery. Since aloe vera is such a wonderful healer to the skin, I thought, why not also take it internally? You can buy aloe vera juice at most health food stores, but most of it tastes pretty nasty. I buy the sweetened Alo brand that has the chunks of aloe vera in it. You can also find sweetened aloe vera juice in Asian food stores. In my opinion, the sweetened kind is much more palatable. Within a day of drinking the aloe vera juice, my pain and inflammationin my intestines went away completely! You can also apply aloe externally to heal your wounds - aloe is an excellent wound healer.
- Coconut Oil/Juice - I take 1 tbsp of coconut oil internally and also apply it externally to my scars to prevent inflammation and speed healing. I also drink coconut water/juice to help me heal internally.
- Bromelain: An enzyme found in the stems of pineapples, bromelain is useful for reducing post-op swelling. It acts as an anti-inflammatory and boosts the immune system to reduce pain, bruising, tenderness, frostbite, and burns. It is a natural supplement that works the same way as Ibuprofen. The only difference: bromelain will not harm your liver.
If you decide to take anti-inflammatory supplements following surgery, however, remember that inflammation is not always a bad thing. In fact, inflammation is your body's way of bringing blood and nutrients to the area that needs healing. It is your body's adaptive response to trauma. Inflammation actually serves an important healing purpose, so don't go crazy trying to eliminate it with drugs or supplements unless there is a strong medical reason for doing so (check with your doctor to determine what's right for you). After my abdominal surgery, I looked like I was 2 months pregnant from all the abdominal swelling, but that went away in about a week or two. Walking helps getting the circulation going which helps the inflammation to go away faster.
- Chlorella: Japanese studies have found Chlorella Growth Factor (CGF) to be especially effective in speeding up cell growth, a major factor in the natural repair of wounds. Various other studies reveal CGF helps heal ulcers and promote bone and muscle growth. When taken internally, it also acts as an immune-booster. Topically, it functions as a protective cleansing compound for skin.
- Gotu kola: I used gotu kola after my surgery to help speed wound healing and improve my circulation and I feel like it helped a lot. This herb has been used for centuries in Asia as natural medicine. Gotu kola - also called marsh penny, Indian pennywort, and British pennywort - helps in the treatment of scars and wounds with infections that have not yet reached the bone. The herb can be used both internally and externally while components ofgotu kola have been shown to increase levels of antioxidants and help repair connective tissues.
- Silica helps heal skin, ligaments, tendons and other tissues.
- Colloidal silvercan be used topically to prevent infections.
- Acupuncture can help speed wound recovery. Needling the tissues near the wound can boost local circulation and help eliminate scar tissue.
- Vitamin E Oil: Always has been my go-to remedy for scar care. I use Jason's Vitamin E oil. Helps prevent infection and help speed healing of new wounds.
- Silicone: I've done some research on scar care and apparently topical silicone (silicone sheets or cream) helps flatten, lighten and heal scars. I use Scar Away and haven't seen results yet, but I will update if it is successful (for new scars, it supposedly takes 8-9 weeks. Old scars take about 3-6 months to improve).
- Massage: supposedly helps break down scar tissue with raised scars. I use the Scar Away system which combines silica with massage, will update on how it works.