• While many patients fear surgery and the discomforts leading up to it, it’s actually the recovery stage that they should put more thought into.

    Needles and knives, anesthetic and sterile hospital corridors may feel intimidating, but they generally involve well-honed practices under the control of experienced specialists. The post-surgery period happens mostly outside the walls of the hospital or medical facility and has the potential to strongly influence surgical success and healing.

    In the past, what most people thought of as post-surgery care involved a short stay in the hospital or clinic for observation, wound dressings being changed, the horror of bedpans and other indignities, and maybe an IV drip, probably with some sort of narcotic painkiller. That time would be followed by a longer recovery at home, hopefully supported by friends or family, during which you would move as little as possible, eat a lot, and watch way too much television while popping pain meds.

    At some point in all this, you’d get your stiches out, taper off the serious painkillers to the mundane, maybe start shuffling between the couch and your bed on your own, and possibly start some form of rehabilitation. You might also make periodic return visits to a medical specialist to check on healing progress or to get your prescriptions adjusted. Depending on the type of surgery you’ve had, you might need a follow-up procedure, or have a recovery time that lasts anywhere from several weeks to the better part of a year. For all patients undergoing certain procedures, and seniors in particular, complete recovery might not be a possibility.

    Post-surgery care is generally minimal, expensive, and not terribly helpful in actively supporting healing over the short or the long term. But the biggest concern for many is the role of painkillers. Most strong painkillers, the kind you use after the trauma of surgery, are addictive narcotics. While not everyone who uses a prescribed pain medication becomes addicted, a large number of addicts get their start using legitimate pain medication. It can also be a risk to have in the home, even if the patient isn’t likely to be tempted to abuse the medication as a drug.

    Part of the danger is when post-surgical healing doesn’t occur rapidly, or thoroughly enough, and ongoing pain encourages patients to continue seeking relief through illicit and damaging use of a narcotic. Other risks include isolation and depression if immobilized or limited too long by injury and recovery times. Infection or other barriers to physical healing are an obvious concern, and in elderly populations especially, slow or incomplete recoveries have a strong influence on mortality rates. Muscles atrophy quickly, and long periods of immobility or limited mobility can have a negative effect on overall health, as well as a patient’s psychological and emotional well-being.

    Thankfully, solutions for post-surgical care are currently undergoing a wave of transformation. Researchers are searching for alternatives to the traditional approaches, partly spurred on by the need to reduce or remove reliance on narcotic pain relief. is making strides in pharmaceutical options to provide patients relief without the risk. Alternative medications and holistic treatments are being explored in much greater numbers. At the same time, surgical procedures and aftercare are being adapted to cause less trauma and require less recovery in the first place.

    Surgical technology including robotic, laser, and microsurgeries are reducing the damage caused by surgery and, by extension, the recovery time and effort associated with them. A laparoscopic surgery makes a few smaller incisions rather than one large one, reducing the area required to heal and, by extension, cutting patient recovery time dramatically. Robotic surgery operates on much the same principles, using advanced machinery to maneuver in tighter spaces and with less damage than possible via direct human intervention. uses existing openings to reach associated areas and complete minimally invasive procedures with no external wound to heal.

    Then there are the knifeless procedures, like stem cell injections. Already in use in Europe, with growing proponents in the States, stem cell treatments draw the patient’s own stem cells and inject them into an area needing healing to mobilize the body’s natural healing response, rather than making mechanical changes such as repairs and joint replacements. In most cases, these can be day treatments, with no extended in-hospital recovery required. Patients come in, get their stem cells drawn, return for their injection a few hours later, and walk out. There is some time needed for the treatment to take full effect and the patient to regain their strength, but it is a fraction of the time needed for recover from invasive surgical treatments.

    Both surgical techniques and recovery practices and technology are gaining ground and improving the outcomes for patients. Ask about minimally invasive procedures and alternative recovery practices to reduce the trauma of surgery and to recover faster.



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