Speed Up Your Rehab with Pre-hab


Patients who ask us what can they do after surgery to recover as quickly as possible should be asking what can they do before surgery.  Those patients who do best after surgery, prepare their bodies before surgery.  We call this pre-hab. Research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital shows that patients who undergo a pre-hab exercise program are back on their feet faster and recover more quickly than patients who don’t.

What is pre-hab?

“Pre-hab” or pre-habilitation is when a patient engages in physical therapy prior to their orthopedic surgery. This approach includes exercises and hands-on manipulation customized for their specific injury.

How does pre-hab help surgical outcomes?
  • Improved Flexibility and Joint Mobility

    Injuries requiring surgery are often accompanied by severe swelling and muscle spasms, strain due to weakness, overuse of the unaffected limb, or abnormal gait mechanics which compromise flexibility and mobility. Pre-hab physical therapy provides patients with appropriate stretching exercises, soft tissue mobilization, joint mobilization and manual massage to improve these deficits prior to surgery. Reducing muscle tightness and joint stiffness before surgery improves the speed at which post-operative range of motion returns.

  • Increased Strength

    Swelling in the initial stages of an injury (or persistent swelling in the case of arthritis) followed by pain reduces a patient’s ability to recruit and use muscles surrounding injured areas. This quickly leads to the onset of muscle atrophy which worsens after surgery due to a period of additional immobilization. Pre-hab can help reduce swelling and build muscle growth which reduces the impact of decreased muscle performance following surgery.

  • Proprioception/Balance

    Proprioception, otherwise known as our ability to determine where our body is in space, and our overall balance are significantly affected by surgery. This is due to many factors including loss of tissue containing proprioceptors, reduced muscle function and decreased ability to bear weight. These combined with the need to use assisted devices post-operatively (e.g. walkers, canes, crutches, etc.) result in our balance being out of whack. Pre-hab can retrain and improve the proprioceptive function of joints, muscles and neural systems to lead to enhanced function following surgery.

  • Prepping for Rehab Success

    Patients who participate in pre-hab know what to expect and are familiar with the post-surgery rehab process. Think of it like baseball spring training, where players get ready for the long season ahead with a lot of practice swings. Many of the post-op exercises are the same or modifications of what was done during pre-hab. This will provide patients with a leg up and allow for faster progression without additional time being dedicated to education on proper form, intensity and anticipated symptoms. Research from Brigham and Women’s also shows that pre-hab reduces anxiety around surgery, since patients gain a sense of control by being able to actively prepare beforehand.

Whether your goal after surgery is to return to normal day-to-day activities, or to get back on a competitive playing field, pre-hab is one of the most effective ways of ensuring that you can do so as quickly and effectively as possible.  If you have any questions about how pre-hab can help you or a family member, please contact our clinic nearest you.