Prehabilitation for surgery – improve your recovery rate

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Preparation for surgery goes further than simply scheduling the date and showing up on the day. Comprehensive prehabilitation for surgery (taking proactive steps to optimise your health and well-being in the lead-up) can significantly improve your recovery rate.

From maintaining a healthy weight to adopting healthier lifestyle changes – we analyse how thorough preparation for surgery can improve the overall outcome.

Older woman stands at a kitchen counter covered in fruit

Prehabilitation – preparing patients for surgery

For starters, just what do we mean when we say prehabilitation?

Prehabilitation (or prehab) refers to a proactive approach to preparing patients physically and mentally for surgery. Unlike rehabilitation, which focuses on your recovery after surgery, prehabilitation aims to optimise your health and fitness levels before undergoing a surgical procedure. This approach can help reduce the risk of complications and enhance long term recovery.

Why is prehab important before surgery?

Prehabilitation is crucial as it ensures patients go into their surgery in the best possible condition. By addressing underlying health issues and optimising your physical fitness beforehand, you can better withstand the stress of surgery and optimise your recovery.

Prehabilitation can also help reduce the risk of postoperative complications, such as infections and blood clots. This can also lead to a smoother recovery process.

How long does prehabilitation take?

The duration of prehabilitation can vary depending on individual circumstances and the type of surgery planned. In general, we recommend starting prehabilitation as early as possible to allow enough time to make meaningful changes to your health and lifestyle.

Talk to your doctor or surgeon to discuss your personal action plan.

When should I start prehabilitation?

It’s best to start pre-hab as soon as you know that surgery is necessary. This early start allows you to address any underlying health issues you may have, such as obesity or chronic conditions. You’ll also be able to make lifestyle changes that can positively impact your surgical outcome.

Starting prehabilitation early also gives you time to:

  • build strength
  • improve fitness levels
  • adopt healthier habits before surgery.

Ideally, prehabilitation should begin several weeks or months before the scheduled surgery date.

How often should I do prehab?

The frequency of prehabilitation activities will depend on your individual needs and the recommendations of your healthcare team. In general, you should aim to incorporate prehabilitation activities into your daily routine to maximise their benefits. This may include:

  • regular exercise
  • dietary changes
  • stopping smoking
  • stress management techniques.

What are the benefits of prehabilitation?

Prehabilitation brings many benefits both during the surgery itself, and during your recovery. These include:

  • reduced risk of complications during and after surgery
  • faster recovery and shorter hospital stays
  • improved physical and mental well-being
  • improved surgical outcomes and long-term health
  • better overall quality of life post-surgery.

Prehabilitation guidelines and tips

The hints and tips below are designed to get to the heart of exactly what you can do when preparing for your surgery.

Avoiding alcohol

Limiting alcohol consumption before surgery can help reduce the risk of complications and promote healing. Avoiding alcohol consumption altogether in the weeks leading up to your surgery will enhance your body’s ability to recover.

Stopping smoking

Smoking can impair healing after surgery and increase the risk of complications. Quitting smoking before surgery can improve circulation, reduce the risk of infection, and improve the overall outcome. Seek support from healthcare professionals or stop smoking programs to quit successfully.

Being more active

Incorporating regular physical activity into your routine can improve cardiovascular health, strengthen muscles, boost energy levels, and improve overall fitness. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week to prepare your body for surgery. This could be as simple as a daily walk or gentle swim, depending on your current fitness levels.

Always talk to your healthcare provider to come up with a safe and effective exercise plan that’s tailored to your needs.

A healthier you in mind and body

Along with physical health, you should prioritise your mental health and well-being. This can be achieved by practising mindfulness, relaxation techniques, and stress management strategies. Try activities that promote mental clarity and emotional resilience. These can include:

  • meditation
  • yoga
  • spending time in nature.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. It’s all about finding activities you love that make you feel happy and calm.

Prehabilitation and physiotherapy

Consult with a physiotherapist to develop a personalised prehabilitation program tailored to your needs and fitness level. This may include exercise classes that target areas relevant to your surgery. For example, strength training, flexibility exercises, and balance drills can all be extremely effective.

Prehabilitation exercises for surgery

Work with a healthcare professional to learn prehabilitation exercises. In the run-up to your surgery, these can help improve:

  • mobility
  • strength
  • flexibility.

These may include gentle stretches, resistance training, and low-impact cardiovascular exercises.

Best diet to prepare for surgery

We know it can be tough, but try to follow a balanced and nutritious diet. This should be rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains to support healing and recovery. Be sure to stay hydrated while avoiding excessive consumption of processed foods, sugary snacks, and unhealthy fats.

You may want to chat to a nutritionist to find the best diet for you.

Staying well

Did you know that catching a cold or getting a skin infection could prevent your surgery from taking place?

Don’t forget to take steps to prevent illness and infection in the weeks leading up to your surgery to avoid any delays. Practise good hygiene, wash your hands regularly, and avoid close contact with people to reduce the risk of catching a cold or flu before your surgery date.

Every little helps

Getting yourself in shape for surgery can seem like a daunting task. But it’s important to remember that every little thing you do will make a big difference. Exercising for a few minutes every day, cutting down on alcohol, and even opting for a healthier lunch option are all small changes that can all add up.

Prehabilitation for orthopaedic surgery at Practice Plus Group

At Practice Plus Group, we recognise the importance of prehabilitation in improving surgical outcomes for our patients. Our multidisciplinary team works closely with patients to develop personalised plans tailored to their specific needs and goals.

At your pre-assessment appointment you will meet your surgeon and have the opportunity to ask any questions you may have. You will also undergo any necessary tests to ensure you’re fit for surgery.

From physiotherapy sessions to dietary counselling and stop smoking support, we offer comprehensive prehabilitation services to help patients prepare for orthopaedic surgery and achieve the best possible outcomes.

Find more prehab resources

Stephen McHale


Mr McHale studied medicine at the University of Southampton graduating with honours in 2008. He undertook higher surgical training in trauma and orthopaedic surgery in southwest England from 2014-2020. During this time he studied for an MSc in musculoskeletal sciences at the University of Oxford and was awarded a distinction. Mr McHale passed the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons exams in 2019. He has been on the specialist register for Trauma and Orthopaedics since 2020 and has subspecialist training in hip and knee surgery having undertaken a fellowship in New Zealand and Oxford.
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