How to Recover Faster After Surgery

If you have recently had surgery, one of the most important questions you may have is how you can recover more quickly. While your recovery will take time, and a certain amount of recovery time is inevitable, there are things that you can do to reduce that time if you choose.

Some of these suggestions may seem too simple, eating right after surgery just makes sense, but taken together your recovery will be well on its way utilizing these helpful hints. While everyone is on their own timeframe, and a normal recovery varies between individuals, a speedy recovery is always welcome.

Senior woman reading a card in a hospital bed
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Wash Your Hands

One of the simplest, yet most effective ways of recovering from your surgery quickly is to be diligent about washing your hands the right way. Washing your hands will help prevent infection, which will, in turn, help you return to your best state of health as quickly as possible. Infections can slow your recovery or even lead to a trip back to the hospital for treatment. Frequently washing your hands, especially before touching your incisions, can mean the difference between a fast recovery and IV antibiotics.

Prevent Nausea and Vomiting

Being nauseated and vomiting after surgery is a terrible way to start your recovery. For individuals who have an abdominal or chest incision, vomiting can lead to severe pain and even surgical complications. Preventing nausea is ideal, but treating nausea and vomiting quickly can get your recovery back on track.

Eating Right After Surgery

You may not have much of an appetite in the days immediately following surgery, so making sure the calories you do take in are high in quality is especially important. Unless you have had a weight loss procedure, the weeks immediately following surgery are not the time for weight loss. Your body needs protein to heal your surgical incision, and the calories it needs to return your energy level to normal.

Good Pain Control

Good pain control doesn’t mean no pain, it means controlling your pain so that you can walk and sneeze and begin to return to your normal activities. If you have had surgery, pain is to be expected. Too much pain medication may means that you won’t be able to return to your normal activities and you are at risk of major problems such as difficulty breathing. Too little pain medication means that you can’t cough effectively and it hurts too much to get up and walk. Neither of these are good options. Striking a balance with pain medication means being able to walk and sneeze and get up to go the bathroom but not so painful that everything is agony and not so medicated that you no longer get out of bed is very important. 

Don’t Overdo It

Going overboard with activity can set your recovery back for days. Feeling great one day should be celebrated, but not with doing 4 loads of laundry or cleaning the entire house. Ease into your normal activities of life, and try not to be so active on a good day that the next two days are spent on the couch wondering why you are hurting so much. Starting slowly with exercise and activity will make a huge difference the next day when you aren’t feeling miserable and sore.

Prevent Infection

Along with frequent hand washing, there are other ways to prevent an infection after surgery. Preventing infection is one of the absolute most important things you can do after surgery, as infection will bring your recovery to a grinding halt if it becomes serious. 

Good Wound Care

Taking care of your surgical wounds is not as difficult as it may seem. For some, gently washing the incision in the shower may be enough, for others, dressing changes may be necessary. Doing these correctly, with clean hands and appropriate dressing supplies, will help your wounds heal quickly and can minimize scarring.

Spot an Infection Right Away

If you can’t prevent infection, the next best thing is to identify an infection early and seek treatment immediately. It is far easier to treat an infection in the early stages than it is when things have become more serious. Keep an eye out for infection and consider taking your temperature daily (at the same time of day) for the first week or two of your rehabilitation. This may help you spot an infection before you might otherwise realize there is a problem.

Follow Your Surgical Instructions

It is easy to think that surgical instructions are not meant for you, especially when you are feeling great. First and foremost, take the time to read the instructions that you have been given. Know what your surgeon’s expectations are for activity and recovery time. Remember that feeling great and being completely healed are not the same thing. You can feel great and still not be ready to pick up heavy objects, spend a day waxing your car or heading out to the woods for a hike.

For most people, fatigue is common after having surgery, and can seemingly come out of nowhere. Before you head off to the mall to power shop, remember that you may have to limit your walking and carrying of packages.

If your surgeon says no lifting or long walks for four weeks, he means four weeks, even if you are feeling pain-free and full of energy.

A Word From Verywell

It cannot be stressed enough that following your surgeon's instructions are a key component of recovering as quickly as possible. Familiarize yourself with your discharge plan, including how soon you can return to your normal activities. Rushing into too much exercise, housework and other tasks can actually slow your recovery by worsening pain and causing fatigue.


3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Barchitta M, Maugeri A, Favara G, et al. Nutrition and wound healing: an overview focusing on the beneficial effects of curcuminInt J Mol Sci. 2019;20(5):1119. doi:10.3390/ijms20051119

  3. Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto. How opioids cause dangerous breathing problems.

Additional Reading
  • How to Heal Faster After Surgery: 5 Tips to Speed Up Post-Op Healing. UnityPoint Health.

By Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FN
Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FNP-C, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She has experience in primary care and hospital medicine.