Orthopaedic Surgeon

Exercising after orthopaedic surgery

Orthopaedic surgeons can repair broken bones and replace worn-out joints, but it’s up to us to walk the road to recovery. Here’s how exercise after orthopaedic surgery can help.

Orthopaedic surgeons see their fair share of trauma to ankles, forearms, wrists, hips, knees and clavicles. And while every repair job and procedure is different, there are some simple guidelines to consider when exercising post-op.

How to exercise after orthopaedic surgery


Get up: the sooner the better

The days of prescribed immobility and long rest periods after surgery are over. ‘We want our patients to move safely and as much as possible after surgery.

Remember the power of five

For every one day that a patient is bedridden after surgery, it takes five days to regain lost power. Gentle exercise reduces swelling to the surgical site and boosts self-confidence.

Take a shorter splint stint

Splints are needed to repair damaged joints and bones, especially in the hand, finger or arm, but some movement is essential to avoid stiffness. The longer a bone is splinted, the harder rehab becomes.

Train your brain

The brain is lazy. If an ankle fracture is kept still and bears no weight for six weeks, the brain will forget about it. The joint will then need retraining. In medical terms this is called proprioception – the brain’s awareness of a joint and its position in relation to the rest of the body.

Strengthen your bones

Another advocate for early post-operative mobilisation is that the longer a joint or limb is still, the softer the bones become. In the past fractures were rested strictly while waiting for bones to knit, but this has been shown to lead to a decline in bone density called disuse osteopenia. It’s best to do gentle weight-bearing exercise with professional assistance.

Stick to the programme

Early mobility is essential, but you can’t go it alone. Exercise and movement after orthopaedic surgery must be tackled with a trained therapist who will focus on restoring functional movements like walking or holding a pen. This is done using aides initially, such as therabands, or balls. Expect to receive a lot of physio in hospital and after discharge.

Take a long-term view

Depending on the injury and surgery, it will take about 30 days to get real, functional strength back. With all this talk about moving about, don’t bring your shoes to the hospital and expect to walk home unaided after a hip replacement.

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