Colorectal Surgery: Recovery

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Colorectal surgeries are major operations with a significant recovery period. Depending on the exact procedure you have done, you will spend time recovering in the hospital, maybe even a rehabilitation center. There will be a number of follow-up appointments with your doctor. Keep reading to learn what you can expect during your recovery period.

Recovering from colorectal surgery
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Surgery Follow-Up

You will typically be discharged from the hospital two days or so after your colorectal surgery if it was done laparoscopically. When you are discharged, you will need someone to drive you home. You will also be given medications to help manage your pain, prevent infection, and address other issues like nausea or constipation.

Recovery Timeline

Generally speaking, you will be able to return to your normal activities—like showering, driving, and sexual intercourse—about one to two weeks after your surgery if you had laparoscopic colorectal surgery.

Your surgeon will likely schedule a follow-up appointment with you to check on your recovery progress within two weeks of your discharge from the hospital.

Some instructions you may be given to help with your recovery include:

  • Avoid large meals. Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
  • Drink lots of fluids but try to limit caffeine, alcohol, and sugary drinks.
  • Discuss pain control with your doctor and find a safe, and effective regimen.
  • You can expect some loose or watery stools after surgery. Your doctor should give you instructions on what to expect, and when to call their office.
  • If you are discharged with a drain, your medical team will teach you how to care for it, and instruct you on when it can be removed.
  • Make sure to keep moving. Your doctor will advise you on some exercises and activities to keep you moving in a safe way.

Coping With Recovery

Colorectal surgeries can bring you relief if your condition was causing pain or bowel problems. There can be some difficulty in adjusting to routines, too.

With some colorectal surgeries, you may have an ostomy—an opening created surgically to allow for stool or other wastes to exit—temporarily or permanently placed to address your condition.

Before you leave the hospital, your medical team will provide you with ostomy supplies and teach you how to care for your ostomy. Still, coping with an ostomy can be difficult. You may want to ask your surgeon about mental health resources or local support groups that can help you cope.

Even without an ostomy, make sure you have a good support system in place at home to help you through your recovery. If you don’t have strong support at home, ask your doctor about home health services or community organizations that can offer help.

Wound Care

Your surgeon will give you specific instructions on how to care for your post-surgical wounds. If you had laparoscopic or robotic surgery, the incisions will be minimal. An open surgery will require more advanced wound care.

Generally speaking, the following should apply to wound care following a laparoscopic colorectal surgery.

  • You may shower, but should avoid bathing, hot tubs, or swimming until your surgeon tells you it’s OK.
  • Your incision likely won’t need to be covered. You may want to use a small gauze to cover the incision if there is drainage, to prevent rubbing and protect your clothing.
  • Small amounts of clear, yellow, or somewhat red drainage is normal. Call your doctor if the drainage becomes thick, green, foul-smelling, or increases significantly. This could indicate an infection.
  • Your incision should be pink, but watch for redness and call your doctor. This could indicate an infection.
  • Your incision will be mostly healed about six weeks after your surgery. Your scar will become lighter over the course of about a year.

A Word From Verywell

You should take care during your recovery period from colorectal surgery to stay active and prevent infection at the surgical site. Mental health and emotional support are important, too, especially if you have more long-term changes, like an ostomy. Make sure to talk to your doctor about what kind of support you have in place before your surgery.

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Article Sources
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  1. Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons. Colon resection surgery patient information from SAGES.

  2. UCSF. Your guide to dolorectal surgery.