Surgery Tips: What Not to Do After Your Procedure

Avoiding Problems and Complications After Surgery

Recovering After Surgery
Recovering After Surgery.

After surgery there are many things you can do to improve your recovery, but we rarely talk about the things you should not do.  Here is a list of things you should avoid until your surgeon tells you that you can return to all of your normal activities.

Don’t Drive Too Soon

You may think the no driving rule after surgery is just about sleeping off your anesthesia, or because pain medication can impair judgement, but that isn’t the whole story.

  You shouldn’t return to driving until you can slam on the brakes without hesitating.  Many surgery patients know that the force of hitting the brakes will cause pain but you need to be able to drive defensively without hesitating.   It is also important to remember that the seatbelt can cause irritation to an incision and an irritated incision is a painful incision.

Don’t Do Too Much

Your doctor says you should not lift anything greater than 15 pounds for 6 weeks, but 1 week after surgery you feel great and can lift 15 pounds without a problem, so it’s ok to lift more, right?  Wrong.  Just because you feel strong does not mean your surgical incision is strong.  Straining, lifting and doing too much can weaken your incision, and for some, leads to a truly awful condition called dehiscence and evisceration.  Trust me, you do not want this to happen to you.

Don’t Avoid Your Pain Medication

You don’t like the idea of pain medication, so you choose not to take it because you would prefer to be in pain.

  What’s the big deal? Well, people in pain move around a lot less than people who have good pain control.  Moving less means a higher risk for blood clots, especially in the legs.  People in pain also don’t breathe as deeply and they avoid coughing, which greatly increases the risk of pneumonia.  Take what you need to be comfortable rather than suffering needlessly.


How to Cough After Surgery

Don’t Become Constipated

If you had surgery on your GI tract, or if you are taking prescription pain relievers, you are at an increased risk of being constipated.  Follow your surgeon’s instructions exactly, which may have you avoiding certain foods, adding a stool softener to your day, or avoiding caffeine while increasing your intake of water.  Straining to have a bowel movement can be very painful after surgery, and even worse, it can put a lot of strain on your incision. 

Don’t Ignore Signs of Infection 

Surgical incisions are a huge risk factor for a skin infection.  They are also a direct access point for bacteria to reach the organs and tissues that are normally protected by your intact skin.  Do not ignore increasing levels of pain, redness, fever or pus.  Any of these should lead directly to calling the surgeon who performed the procedure.

Prevent Infection!

Don’t Assume the Instructions Don’t Apply to You

This one goes something like this... I know my instructions say I should not return to work for another two weeks but I feel great and my work is just piling up, I feel great, maybe some people need that long to recover but I don’t.  

Recovering from surgery is serious exhausting stuff.

  If you return to work looking fresh as a daisy, no one will understand the next day when you claim that you “overdid it” by returning to work so early and you want to stay home the next 13 days.  Recovering is tiring and easing back into work whenever humanly possible is highly recommended.  If you absolutely cannot survive without going back to work early, consider offering to come back for a half day to “see how it goes” and then do exactly that.

The same is true of working out, housework, yard work and any other kind of physical work.  Take it easy and see how it goes before jumping in and overdoing your activity.

  Your body, and your incision, will thank you.

Don’t Ignore the Emotional Aspects of Surgery

Surgery can be incredibly draining emotionally, especially for those who are waiting for test results or require an extensive recovery period.  You may be scared, exhausted, frustrated, or even bored after surgery.  Rather than ignoring these feelings, take the time to talk about those feelings.  If you would prefer not to talk about them, consider journaling your thoughts.  

Don’t Skip Meals 

After surgery, food and fluids can seem completely unappetizing, but unless you are too nauseated to eat, having something.  By the second day after surgery you should be able to tolerate eating and drinking, but you may need to stick to things that are mild in texture and flavor, such as mashed potatoes or rice.  After that, you should be able to return to your standard diet within a few days of surgery unless you have been given specific instructions to the contrary.

What to Eat After Surgery

Don't Smoke

​Your wound will heal faster and with less scarring if you don't smoke during your recovery.  Truly.  The difference between smoking and not smoking isn't healing a few hours faster, it is weeks faster.  Smoking decreases your skin's ability to heal your incision and increases the risks of pneumonia and infection during your recovery.

Don't Skip Medications

Take your medications as prescribed, especially your antibiotics.  Your incision may look good and you may feel good, but that doesn't mean you should skip the last of your antibiotics.  Skipping the last doses of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance, which means they may not work the next time you need them if you don't finish the prescription.

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