How Long Will Recovery Take After Surgery

When Will I Feel Like Myself Again?

Bandage After Pediatric Surgery
Age Can Help Determine Surgical Recovery Times. Image: © Rebecca Ellis/Getty Images

When a person is having surgery one of the most common questions they ask is how long will the recovery take. The answer to that question is complex and almost always unique to the individual and the type of procedure taking place.

There are many variables that determine how long recovery will last, ranging from a day to months before the patient feels like their pre-surgery self.

Type of Surgery 

The type of surgery being performed has an enormous impact on how long the recovery will take.

For example, we can expect an open heart surgery where the sternum (breastbone) is cut in half to take at least six to eight weeks. Open heart procedures are very serious, and may require cardiac rehabilitation afterward to make the best recovery possible. The incision is large and goes through many layers of tissue and even bone. The end result is that the recovery from this procedure is expected to take months, not weeks.

Contrast that procedure with a tonsillectomy, where the incisions are very small, and there is no external incision because the surgeon works through the patient’s mouth. The recovery requires cold fluids as food for a day or two, followed by a few days of soft food, but most patients return to their normal activities within a week, two at the most.

You can expect that minimally invasive procedures will have a shorter recovery time, as the incisions are often very small, and less tissue is cut by those incisions.

Open procedures, the surgeries that utilize larger incisions, will take longer in most cases. For example, an appendectomy performed using the minimally invasive laparoscopic technique will typically result in a shorter recovery than an appendectomy performed using an open technique. This is one reason why the laparoscopic technique is often favored by physicians and patients, when available.

Age of the Patient

Age has an impact on recovery. The general rule is that younger patients bounce back faster after a procedure when compared to older patients having the same surgery. That said, a healthy older patient could certainly recover faster than a very ill young patient. It would be expected that a teenager who has the same surgery as an elderly patient would recover more quickly, but nothing is set in stone. Two patients who are chronologically the same age may be far different ages when comparing their health histories and overall "wear and tear" on their bodies.

General Condition of Patient

The overall health of the patient has a great deal to do with the healing process. There are many variables that impact the ability to recovery quickly, such as the presence of diabetes and the patient’s smoking history.

The patient who goes into surgery with a complex history of illness is unlikely to heal as quickly as the patient who has the same surgery with no history of illness.

The patient who smokes is more likely to have scarring and delayed wound healing, while the diabetic surgery patient is at higher risk for infections postoperatively. These things play a role in how healing will progress.

The patient can speed their healing process by quitting smoking, the diabetic can promote their recovery by keeping their blood glucose level well-controlled, so it is possible to manage these issues before and after surgery.

Willingness to Recover

The patient who is fully committed to recovering to the best of their ability, and willing to do what must be done, whether that is rehabilitation, diet modification, smoking cessation, wound care or the like, is going to recovery faster than the patient who does not meaningfully pursue the goal of recovery.

The patient who follows the surgeon’s instructions, who eats a healthful diet, and pursues good health will be likely to recover more quickly.

That includes following the instructions to “take it easy” rather than jumping into activities.

Depression after surgery is not uncommon, and can slow recovery. Feelings of depression can make it challenging to engage in the business of getting better, and should be reported to the primary care provider.

Complications

Complications. That is the word that every surgery patient dreads, but it is, unfortunately, a reality for some patients. There are many issues, expected and unexpected, that can slow a recovery. Identifying complications, such as a wound infection, quickly can make an enormous difference in how much they impact the recovery process.

Is Full Recovery Possible?

Is it possible or reasonable to make a full recovery? What exactly is a full recovery? The idea of a full recovery is typically understood as functioning as well as prior to surgery, or better. That expectation may not be reasonable, a better definition might be reaching your best possible level of function after surgery. Some surgeries are not performed for a cure, but to improve pain, remove infection, or slow a disease process.

For example, imagine a patient who has a severe infection in their foot that is both painful and life-threatening. The problem is not being controlled by antibiotics or wound care, and the infection is threatening to move to the rest of the body. Surgically removing the foot could very well save the patient’s life, and put an end to the infection; however, walking will be a very different thing after surgery, potentially requiring a prosthetic foot. For this patient, a return to good health without an infection, and a well-healed incision may be considered an outstanding outcome and a complete recovery.

Predicting Recovery Times

Your surgeon is the one individual who can most accurately estimate the length of time your recovery will require. They are knowledgeable about the current state of your health, the details of the procedure that is being done, your age and all of the other factors that together will determine your recovery time. Even so, that time frame is an estimate, a most likely scenario based on what is known about your health combined with practical experience. Unforeseen complications will extend the time it takes to fully recover after surgery.

Source:

After Surgery. Medline Plus.  Accessed 2014. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/aftersurgery.html

Continue Reading