Close up image showing 2 surgeons working on an individual

Published on March 31, 2022

The role of physical therapy in pre and post-op care

Recovering from a major surgery can be physically and emotionally difficult, and sometimes, pre and post-op physical therapy are required to speed up the healing process. Physical therapy can also help you better manage your pain levels and regain function. If your medical provider has recommended physical therapy before or after your surgery, the following information may be helpful along your journey.


Physical therapists are trained medical professionals who specialize in assisting patients to restore their strength, range of motion, and activity. To do this, they may help patients engage in special exercises, techniques, and stretches, and many utilize specialized equipment to help them perform their jobs. Physical therapists have the training to recognize weaknesses in the human body and correct them without pain. Some therapists provide a variety of services while others focus on only a single area of the body.

Physical therapists have extensive medical knowledge, and they are aware of the impact of surgery on the human body. Therapists have access to your health and surgical records, allowing them to craft a program specially tailored to your recovery. They understand your body’s limitations, and although they may push you, they will not force you to perform any exercises that will worsen your condition.


In the past, some doctors have been wary of recommending post or pre-op physical therapy before or after a major surgery, concerned that additional movement could worsen an injury. This may be true in a few select cases, but for many patients physical therapy administered before or after surgery has been proven to have multiple benefits:

  • Mentally prepare patients for surgical procedures
  • Improve surgical outcomes
  • Lower the risk of post-operative infections
  • Help patients regain strength more quickly
  • Reduce the length of hospital stays

Due to its overwhelmingly positive impact, pre-hab as well as rehab is being prescribed more and more across the nation.


Stretching allows patients to recover their full range of motion and increase joint flexibility. After a major surgery, soft tissue can contract and scar tissue can form, decreasing flexibility and making it more difficult to move. Regular stretching under the supervision of a physical therapist can prevent scar tissue from interfering with your rehabilitation. It can also make simple tasks, such as reaching overhead, climbing stairs, and walking extended distances, significantly easier.


Exercises to improve strength and build muscle are an essential part of both pre and post-op physical therapy. Exercising may be difficult or even a bit painful at first, but as your endurance and strength build, you will begin to see the benefits. Exercise can be particularly effective for patients suffering from shoulder, back, and neck injuries.

Many physical therapists find it effective to focus on rebuilding strength and stability in the core (midsection of your body). The core functions as the body’s foundation, and a weak core makes surgical patients more susceptible to sustaining additional injuries. Overusing or placing an excessive amount of strain on the core can also lead to serious issues. Core strengthening exercises can help patients avoid this while rebuilding strength in the core, back, and pelvis areas.


Exercise and stretching are not the only types of physical therapy your doctor may recommend before or after a surgery. Depending on your biomechanical needs and physical condition, your doctor and physical therapist may recommend any of these treatments:

Electrical stimulation

To increase blood flow, reduce pain, and help your muscles contract more efficiently, electrical currents are sent to the afflicted area of your body and its nerves.

Heat and ice application

Heating and cooling the injured part of the body can reduce pain and swelling, and many patients report increased flexibility after their muscles are subjected to heat and cold.


This form of therapy uses high-frequency sound waves to stimulate deep tissue. The human ear cannot pick up these sound waves, and it is often administered using a probe.

As stated above, your physical therapist may also incorporate various medical and exercise equipment into your therapy.


Physical therapy can be an important part of preparing for or recovering from surgery. If your doctor recommends it, you can look forward to experiencing its numerous health benefits. Contact SoCal Elite Physical Therapy today to learn more about physical therapy and its role in your recovery.

Published on March 31, 2022

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