6 Self-Care Tips After Surgery

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Patient smiling about recovery

Your surgery is over, and now it’s time to heal. You may be anxious to get back to normal as soon as possible, and there are some steps you can take to help your recovery move along.

Recovery could take anywhere from a week to a few months, depending on your type of operation, and you may also experience some postoperative side effects. There are also possible complications, such as infection, too much bleeding, reaction to anesthesia, or accidental injury; but these tips, along with your doctor’s orders, can help you have a safe and speedy recovery.

1.  Take your medication to control pain. Your doctor will prescribe medication to help control pain at home. Keep in mind that it’s easier to prevent pain than it is to control it. If you have trouble controlling your pain, ask your doctor about additional measures. If your doctor has cleared you to exercise, plan to take your medication at least 30 minutes before you begin, and be sure to ease into exercising.

2. Follow your doctor’s instructions for incision care. Here are some general tips to keep in mind:

Keep the incision clean and dry, and avoid bathing for the first 24 hours. If you have stitches or skin tape, take a shower instead of a bath.

• Gently pat the incision dry with a towel after bathing – no rubbing!

• If your bandage becomes bloody, replace it with dry gauze or another bandage. Apply pressure to the incision to stop the bleeding. If it continues, call your doctor.

• If you notice any swelling, increased pain, drainage, or fever, call your doctor right away. Redness around the incision site is normal, but if it increases or spreads more than half an inch, let your doctor know. He or she many suggest using an antibiotic cream on the site.

3. Ease into activity. Most likely, you will be extremely tired when you get home from surgery. Limit movement around the incision site to prevent the incision from opening. Your doctor will let you know when it’s ok to start lifting things and resume exercise and sports. But it is important to get some movement right away to increase blood flow, improve respiration and promote overall healing. Talk to your doctor about the best way to do this.

4. Look for signs of a blood clot. These could include:

•   pain or swelling

•   discolored skin

•   skin feeling hot to the touch

•   veins appearing larger than normal

You may also experience symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, such as a heavy ache, tenderness or redness of your skin. If you notice any of these symptoms, get medical help right away.

5. Avoid the sun. The sun can make a healing scar darker and more noticeable. Try to limit your time in the sun for at least six months after surgery. When you do go outdoors, cover your scar with protective clothing, tape or sunscreen.

6. Be patient with yourself. Everyone recovers at his or her own rate, and it may take time before you are at full speed again. If rest is what the doctor has ordered, ask friends and family to help take some of the load off or just offer company if you’re feeling isolated. Don’t be stubborn—permit yourself to accept help from others. The more you can rely on friends, family,  and your medical team, the faster and easier your recovery will be. 

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  1. Having an Operation (Surgery) — Getting Back to Normal. NHS Choices.
  2. After Surgery. Medline Plus. NIH U.S. National Library of Medicine. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/aftersurgery.html
  3. Caring for Your Incision After Surgery. FamilyDoctor.org. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/prevention-wellness/staying-healthy/first-aid/caring-for-you...
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jul 12
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