Monday Medical: Pre-surgery planning leads to post-surgery success |

Monday Medical: Pre-surgery planning leads to post-surgery success

Mary Gay Broderick
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Whether a surgery is planned or an emergency, it can be a source of anxiety. And while patients are often preoccupied with the hospital visit itself, what happens after they return home is equally important.

“The more prepared you are for surgery, the better off you will be after surgery,” said Kendra Gleffe, surgical nurse navigator at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “Pre-surgical planning helps to identify surgical stressors and associated solutions.”

Gleffe works with patients after surgery in a number of areas, including orthopedics, gynecology, urology and general surgery.

Tips before surgery

For patients who face a recovery from orthopedic surgery, Gleffe recommends spending some time prior to their operation working with a physical therapist to strengthen supporting muscles.

“If your muscles atrophy in the weeks and months before for surgery, it can be really hard to come back from that,” she said. “Come in as strong and healthy as you can be, and your recovery is going to go that much better.”

Gleffe also advises using assistive devices such as canes and crutches to support painful joints prior to surgery. Some patients mistakenly think it best not to rely on these devices beforehand, but may end up with subsequent injuries after inadvertently putting pressure on other joints or from limping or compensating with other muscles.

“Using assistive devices can lessen stress on a joint, which may help calm down pain and joint inflammation,” she said.

Gleffe emphasizes the importance of being mentally and emotionally fit as well.

“Our mental state plays so heavily into our recovery,” she said. “Being in the moment and accepting where your body is at that moment is helpful. Every surgery is different, just like every day is different.”

Once back at home

While recovery downtime can be difficult for some people, it can be especially so for active Steamboat residents. A physical therapist can provide safe exercises for specific injuries or surgeries. Physical therapists can also recommend non-weight bearing or isometric exercises to gain strength.

Gleffe is also a proponent of utilizing a “mindful recovery activity and medication tracker.” A person can note daily medication dosage and frequency, pain level, activities accomplished and a patient’s overall response to all these factors.

“If you had a good day, you can continue doing the things that contributed to it,” said Gleffe. “If things didn’t go so well, you might be able to see why. Having notes really helps you tailor your activities to the level where you want to be as you heal.”

As patients become engaged in daily activities – beginning with just walking around their home, Gleffe preaches “ice, elevate and evaluate.” That includes deliberate and incremental increases in movement, after which patients should see how they’re feeling – then they should ice the affected joint, as well as elevate it.

“The biggest mistake I see patients make is to push themselves too quickly,” she said. “It is best to practice daily, controlled increases in activity.”

For instance, Gleffe recommends taking laps in the house where there are plenty of places to rest and no weather issues to contend with. Once patients build up stamina, balance and strength, they can head outdoors.

For patients recuperating from surgery

Think about the type of surgery and associated restrictions.

  • Will I need a cane, crutches, walker, knee scooter, sling or other piece of equipment?
  • How much can I safely lift?
  • Will I only have one arm to use?
  • What help will I need to get to therapy and other appointments, as well as with snow removal, outdoor chores, pet care and groceries?

Factor in other recovery considerations.

  • Remove clutter in the house and be aware of outside hazards.
  • Plan nutritious meals.
  • Stay hydrated, as medication and altitude can increase dehydration.
  • Be mindful of medication side effects and change positions slowly.
  • Ask questions of your provider and care team. Follow the instructions and keep post-surgery appointments.
  • Rediscover low-impact activities you enjoy but haven’t had time for, such as reading or crafts.
  • Allow yourself the necessary time to heal.

“Try not to compare yourself to others or with stories you may have read online about ‘typical recovery,’” said Gleffe. “Listen to your own body – it will tell you what it needs. Sometimes it’s easier to focus on the negative after surgery, but be kind to yourself and be positive. Recovery is a small moment in time that helps us return to our normal daily activities.”

Mary Gay Broderick writes for UCHealth. She can be reached at

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