Post-Surgery Rehabilitation For Athletes – How To Come Back Strong

Infographic Detailing Rehabilitation Strategies For Athletes

Sometimes, surgery is inevitable. There is no supplement, movement skill, mobilization, or strengthening strategy that can remedy good old fashioned tissue trauma. Sometimes unrelenting pain is reason enough to seek out a surgeon. Sometimes we hit compromised levels of function that are just unacceptable. Surgery can be a miracle. There is, however, often a pretty significant gap between the day of surgery and the day we return to our full powered lives.  

Humans are extraordinary healing machines. To maximize our innate abilities to heal, there is actually quite a bit of behavior we are still responsible for once the final suture has gone in. There are no fast healers. You either heal at the rate that humans can heal, or you are slower than that.  In short, there is healing, and then there is maximal healing.  

It can feel overwhelming after surgery. Stick to the basics. Control what you can control.

Do The Time & Control Swelling

Look guys, as much as I love guides like “recover like a superhero” there is no way to increase the speed of the human healing response. What we’re really doing is trying to remove as many obstacles from its way as possible. You’re gonna have to do the time, and we need to remember that so you don’t sabotage yourself trying to do too much too fast. 

Be conservative with your rehab exercises. This is where, if you’re going to overdo it, it’s gonna happen. Do not exceed the guidelines of your Doctor and do not rush back to your old routine.   

With that said, our number one goal post-op is to get ahead of the swelling. I cover this in detail in Surgery Series Part 1: Short Term Goals video, but we’ll go over it again here too. 

The best method and the one I’m using is combining autogenic compression with external compression gear. Autogenic devices like the H-Wave send an electrical current into the muscle that creates a muscle contraction that then squeezes the lymphatic system (the sewer of your body). Your body is highly efficient at combating congestion, but it takes muscle contraction to really do it well.

Compression socks, blood flow restriction therapy devices, and other compression gear improve the vascular function in and around the limb. I get into more detail on these tools in the first article of this series. 

Use these techniques as much as you can post-op, including while you sleep as long as it doesn’t disrupt it too much!

Get Your Sleep Right & Eat Good Food

Infographic Detailing Rehabilitation Strategies For Athletes

Sleep is your body’s number one recovery process.  For the first 6 weeks (at least) try to get 10 hours of sleep a night or more. No sleep = no healing. We literally cannot have a conversation about recovery without sleep. 

Ask your doctor to instruct his staff not to disturb you at night while you’re sleeping. Sometimes we need temporary sleep support. A great solution is my friend Dr. Kirk Parsley’s Sleep Remedy, which was developed as a natural alternative to Ambien for Navy SEALs. 

When it comes to food, consider bringing your own to the hospital. Definitely avoid the high-carb processed staple foods like graham crackers and orange juice. If you drink coffee, do NOT stop now. Caffeine withdrawal can last up to a week and will sabotage your healing process. 

As you are able, consider lowering carbohydrates to less than 100g and avoid inflammatory foods such as oxidized vegetable oils (good oils are olive oil, avocado, and coconut oil.) I also promote a high-protein diet during this time. I’m doing 170 to 200g daily with my own recovery. 

Use Crutches, Elevate, And Get Back On The Assault Bike 

Crutches are a way to de-load your injury. It lets the tissues heal. When your joint is below your heart, it creates a gravity well. This is why leg surgeries so-often result in swollen ankles. Swelling is the enemy. The lowest-tech solution out there is elevation. It works, every time. And, elevation does not equal putting your leg on a pillow on the couch – elevation means lying on your back, butt against a corner, and your leg up the wall (see picture above).  

I also strongly recommend getting access to an Assault Bike within the first two days or when you’re ready. By using 3 limbs, you can condition while healing. Your tissues will thank you for the increased circulation. Do 50 seconds slow, and 10 seconds fast, for 20 to 30 minutes a day.

If you can, get to your gym for this. Keeping in contact with your tribe and workout partners is essential. We got into that in more detail in the pre-op article. 

Keep Tissue Mashing & Stay Involved In Your Community

Use The Ready State to keep doing daily mobility for the tissues above and below the joint, while adhering to the rule “if it feels sketchy it IS sketchy.”

At a minimum, do 15 minutes of soft-tissue work a day. The more the better while monitoring for any increased pain, but that’s a good minimum. Tissue mobilization techniques will also stimulate lymph flow and lower your cortisol and stress levels. 

Lastly, don’t be a hermit!

We ended the last article on this note as well. We are tribal beings. We get so much recovery benefit from feeling like we are still part of our tribe, and we add stress when we feel isolated, abandoned, or ostracized. You might be avoiding the gym because you don’t want to be seen with crutches, but your brain thinks you have been left behind because of your injury. 

Keep training your non-injured body parts in your gym setting. You can even do your assault bike and tissue mashing there too. 

And there you have it!

Other resources: 

Download the full Infographic

Surgery Series Part 2: Setting Up Your Environment

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