Tips for Recovering From Abdominal Surgery

Take It Slow At First, And Your Recovery Will Go More Smoothly

Surgery for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is difficult on the body as well as on quality of life. Making good preparations can lessen the impact and improve the recovery time from surgery. There's much that can be done to prepare yourself, your home, your finances, and your employer for the time you'll need to take to recover. When everything is in place before having surgery, time can be best spent focusing on recovery.

Daughter playing nurse to father in bed
Hero Images / Getty Images

Contact Your Insurance Carrier

Some insurance companies require that they be informed before a hospitalization. This is extremely important, as they may deny benefits if there's not a call made to them prior to the surgery. When in doubt, make a quick call to the number on the back of the insurance card to find out for sure.


Work With Your Employer

Let an employer know as soon as a surgery date is scheduled. Some people may be eligible for short-term disability if there's a need for an extended recovery period. Remember that a note from the healthcare provider is needed to explain the need for surgery (no one needs to know why—it's none of their business) and how long of an absence is likely. To get back to work, another note will be needed, and this one will detail when, where, and how a return to work can take place (for instance, returning back at fewer hours to start, or with certain accommodations). Don't forget to ask for these, and remember to keep a copy.


Prepare For Your Return Before You Leave For The Hospital

A house needs to be ready for the return before even leaving for surgery. Some of the things to consider might be:

  • Stocking the freezer, refrigerator, and pantry with soft, low-residue foods
  • Having comfortable clothing, such as robes, pants with elastic waists, and t-shirts, to wear home from the hospital and during recovery
  • Finishing all the laundry and heavy cleaning and have the house in good order
  • Arranging furniture and other items so that trips up and down stairs will be minimized
  • Paying all bills up-to-date, or even setting up automatic payments

Get Out Of Bed

Yes, it's likely to be uncomfortable, but don't fight the nurses when they say it's time to get out of bed and walk in the days following surgery. People who get out of bed and move around will recover faster, and get released sooner. Additionally, this will help get the bowels moving again, and once that happens, it may be possible to graduate from a liquid diet to some solid food.


Indulge In Your Hobby

You will be tired, sore, and have a short attention span due to painkillers. Plan to spend time in the house reading, knitting, watching movies or TV, doing crossword puzzles or word games, putting together jigsaw puzzles, or doing some other quiet hobby. If you get bored easily at home, finding some hobbies that you can relax with is very important. Your mental health during recovery is critical, and being bored or feeling "cooped-up" won't help.


Don't Lift Anything Heavy...

Your muscles need time to heal. Do not lift things heavier than recommended by your healthcare provider (typically this is about 5 lbs), including, but not limited to, children, cats, dogs, grocery bags, and laundry baskets. Your continued health and complete recovery is too important to risk by going against healthcare provider's orders. Vacuuming is difficult on the abdominal muscles, so don't do it until the surgeon says you're ready.


...But Get Some Light Exercise

Your recovery will go in stages. At first, walking will be tough enough. Don't wear yourself out, but walk as much as you are able. When the surgeon releases you to do more, start back into your exercise program slowly. It will be some months before you will be back to your regular activities.


Ask Before You Get Intimate

Don't be afraid to discuss with your surgeon about when you will be well enough to have sex—it's a very important question. This is a personal decision that also needs to be discussed with your partner, and it will depend on your comfort level. You will know when you are ready.


Have Extra Pillows On Hand

A pillow between the knees, and another held against the stomach helps with discomfort during sleeping after surgery. A body pillow is also a good choice to lean against while in bed. Additionally, put one or two pillows on any chair you are sitting in for extra comfort.


Ask For Help

Having someone around to prepare meals and keep up with household chores will be helpful for your physical recovery, and give you peace of mind. If you don't have a friend or relative available, check with the hospital about volunteers. They may have a staff of volunteers (or be able to direct you to a volunteer group) who can deliver your medications and groceries, or just come by for a short visit.

2 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.
  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Getting out of bed after surgery.

  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Ostomy surgery of the bowel.

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.