Is “Prehab” the Best Kept Secret to Rapid Recovery?

Pre-surgical rehabilitation, often referred to as “pre-operative rehabilitation” or “prehab” for short, is a form of physiotherapy. Physical rehabilitation both before and after surgery can have remarkable effects on outcomes. It’s widely known that physical rehabilitation after a surgery such as a knee replacement is an important part of the recovery process. However, prehab has been shown to not only speed up the healing process, but to provide better long-term results. Let’s take a dive into exactly what pre-surgical rehabilitation is, it’s benefits, and the evidence base supporting it.

What Is Pre-Surgical Rehabilitation? 

Pre-surgical rehabilitation is an evidence-based intervention which takes place before an operation. Under the guidance of a qualified physiotherapist, patients are guided through exercise regimens tailor-made for their needs and abilities. It’s often prescribed (6 to 12 weeks) in advance of the operation date and is usually indicated for surgeries involving the joints such as knees, shoulders, hips, and elbows. However, it has also shown great results for pulmonary treatments.

Prehab is often prescribed prior to knee surgery but is beneficial in many other scenarios as well.
Prehab is often prescribed prior to knee surgery but is beneficial in many other scenarios as well.

Benefits of Prehab

  • Improved Respiratory Function

Published in the European Journal of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery, a group of people needing to undergo lung resection surgery for small-cell lung cancer was provided with a tailor-made pre-surgical rehabilitation programme. Importantly, all of these people also suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – meaning that breathing was difficult, and the airflow to the lungs was routinely interrupted. After the prehab programme was completed, the group experienced a mean improvement in maximal oxygen consumption of 18.6%. 

  • Reduced Pain & Improved Outcomes

A study published in the Singapore Medical Journal evaluated the outcomes of people undergoing total knee replacement surgery. Half of the group was prescribed pre-surgical rehabilitation for 6 weeks in the lead up to the operation. Both the control and the experiment group underwent postoperative rehabilitation. On average, the group who performed the prehab regimen experienced significantly reduced pain both 6 weeks and 3 months after the surgery compared to the group who did not do any prehab physiotherapy. A systematic literature review including 565 patients reinforces these findings: “Studies with a high therapeutic validity found unequivocal evidence that prehabilitation had beneficial effects on postoperative outcomes.”

  • Improved Quality of Life & Reduced Hospital Stay

The very same study revealed that people who undergo pre-surgical rehabilitation experience a better ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs). Additionally, they report that their overall quality of life is better compared to the group of people who did not undergo prehab treatment. The improved levels of independence and autonomy positively affect confidence and participation in physical recreational activities like walking. Again, these findings are supported by large-scale literature review including 1700 participants: “Multimodal prehabilitation improves preoperative functional capacity with reduction in hospital length of stay.”

  • Tailor-Made to Your Needs

Pre-surgical rehabilitation programmes administered at Faircape Health Tokai Estate are developed collaboratively with the prehab physiotherapist and patient. As such, they are made especially for the needs of the patient based on their medical condition, physical fitness, and more. These comprehensive prehab regimens will help the individual prepare as completely as possible for whichever operation they will undergo.

Prehab can help to reduce the time spent convalescing after a major surgery.
Prehab can help to reduce the time spent convalescing after a major surgery.

Should I Get Prehab?

As a general rule of thumb, the fitter and more physically active a person is, the more quickly they will recover and the less likely they will lose function after the operation. If you or someone you love is considering prehab leading up to a major operation, it’s always a good idea to chat to your doctor about what’s best for you. Ask about the benefits of prehab and be sure to contact the multidisciplinary team at Faircape Health Tokai Estate should you have any questions.


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