Physiotherapy will give you better orthopaedic surgery outcomes

Physiotherapy will give you better orthopaedic surgery outcomes

If you’re on a waiting list for some form of orthopaedic surgery – whether it’s a hip replacement, knee arthroscopy, or spinal surgery – you probably know that physiotherapy will be an important part of your recovery.

What you may not realise is that pre-surgery physiotherapy is just as crucial to helping you regain full movement as quickly as possible.

Why physiotherapy will give you better orthopaedic surgery outcomes

Let’s take a closer look at the reasons having pre- and post-surgery physiotherapy can support your return to health:

Pre-surgery physiotherapy sets the stage for success

Pre-surgery physiotherapy (also known as ‘pre-rehabilitation’, ‘prehabilitation’ or ‘prehab’) is a proactive approach that works on the principle that the stronger you are going into surgery, the stronger you will be coming out of it.

While prehab can help to prepare for any surgery (for example, people undergoing a surgical procedure to treat cancer), it is particularly helpful for orthopaedic surgery. This is because you may have had a long period of limited movement or struggle to put weight on a particular joint and pre-surgery physiotherapy can support you within these limitations.

Prehabilitation has many benefits – it:

1. Boosts your physical fitness

Prior to surgery, a physiotherapist will design a customised exercise programme tailored to your specific condition and surgical procedure.

This programme will focus on improving strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness, which can significantly influence the surgical outcome. For instance, if you’re having surgery on your knee, having stronger muscles around it will provide better support and quicker recovery.

2. Reduces complications from surgery

If you want to get back to normality as soon as possible after surgery (and who doesn’t?!), then prehab is one of the best ways to achieve this.

Studies have shown that patients who engage in pre-surgery physiotherapy often experience fewer complications and a reduced need for pain medications post-surgery. Improved physical condition pre-surgery can also lead to shorter hospital stays and a faster return to daily activities.

3. Helps you to feel mentally prepared for surgery

Surgery can be a daunting prospect. An experienced physiotherapist will be able to help you understand the surgical process and recovery timeline, creating realistic expectations for the days, weeks, and months after your surgery before you’re thrown into the recovery period.

This preparation can reduce anxiety and improve mental resilience, both of which are crucial for a successful recovery.

4. Optimises your functional mobility

Functional mobility is a term that describes your ability to move independently and safely in a variety of environments to accomplish everyday tasks. This includes things like getting out of bed, climbing the stairs, making a cup of tea or some food, or using the toilet, for example, which are often tasks that you need to be able to do to go home after surgery.

Pre-surgery physiotherapy can help you to prepare for activities that will require functional mobility. As well as supporting you to plan ahead and think about where challenges might lie, your physiotherapist can help you to get stronger and better able to manage the physical demands of life post-surgery.

People often find this reduces the amount of time they need to rely on walking aids, for example, in the weeks after an operation.

Post-surgery physiotherapy continues your path to recovery

While pre-rehabilitation will help you be fighting fit for surgery, it’s post-surgery physiotherapy that will ensure you regain strength, mobility, and functionality as quickly as possible.

Here’s how it facilitates recovery:

1. Pain management and reduction

After surgery, pain is a common concern. You will no doubt be given various forms of pain relief immediately after your surgery and during the first weeks of recovery. It’s a careful juggling act for health professionals – they need to ensure that your pain is well managed, but also minimise potential side effects such as nausea, drowsiness, or constipation.

Post-surgery physiotherapy can help with pain management and reduction. A physiotherapist will employ various techniques such as manual therapy, ice, heat, and electrical stimulation to alleviate pain. Additionally, specific exercises are prescribed to manage pain without relying solely on medications.

2. Restoring mobility and function

The main purpose of orthopaedic surgery is to treat problems of the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. The hope will always be to give you as much function and movement as possible post-surgery. Physiotherapy supports this goal.

Through a structured programme of stretching and strengthening exercises, you should be able to restore the affected areas of body to their full range of motion and functional capabilities. This is particularly crucial for joint surgeries, where stiffness and immobility can be significant hurdles.

3. Preventing complications

People who spend a long time unable to move around post-surgery can experience complications such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or muscle atrophy.

Post-surgery physiotherapy can help to get you moving as soon as possible, promoting blood circulation and maintaining muscle mass to prevent these complications.

4. The right rehabilitation plan for your individual needs

Every post-surgical recovery journey is unique. Two people could have the same procedure by the same surgeon on the same day, but the return to full function and mobility could still be very different.

Your post-surgery rehab will be based on an individualised plan that considers the type of surgery, your age, overall health, lifestyle, and specific goals. This personalised approach ensures that you receive the most effective care for your needs.

Of course, these needs will change as you heal; a skilled physiotherapist will understand this and adapt your recovery plan accordingly.

5. Improving strength and stability

Strengthening exercises are pivotal in post-surgery rehabilitation. Physiotherapists focus on rebuilding the strength of muscles that support the affected area. This should increase stability and help to prevent future issues or injuries. For example, after a knee surgery, strengthening the quadriceps and hamstrings is essential for knee stability and function.

6. Education and self-management

Physiotherapy extends beyond guided sessions with the therapist. You’ll be given exercises and techniques you can perform at home to continue your progress.

Many people find this empowering because it gives a greater degree of control over the recovery process. It’s also great for creating long-lasting habits that should help you feel fitter and stronger in the future.

The interplay between pre- and post-surgery physiotherapy

Pre- and post-surgery physiotherapy are two sides of the same coin, and their mutual importance cannot be overstated.

Patients who engage in prehabilitation are already familiar with their physiotherapist and the types of exercises and techniques that will be used in their recovery. This builds trust and means that you should experience a smooth transition from pre- to post-surgery rehabilitation because you already feel like you’ve put in the groundwork and know what to expect.

A key benefit of having pre-surgery physio is that it establishes a baseline of your physical capabilities.

Post-surgery, your physiotherapist can measure your progress against this baseline to keep your recovery on track and adjust your rehabilitation plan as needed. It can also be highly motivational for you, the patient, as you’ll have a good sense of how much progress you’ve made since your operation.

Addressing both the pre- and post-surgery phases creates a holistic recovery plan. Prehabilitation prepares the body and mind for surgery, while post-surgery physiotherapy focuses on restoring function and preventing complications.

This comprehensive approach ensures that you are well-supported throughout your entire surgical journey.


Orthopaedic surgery is a significant event, and the recovery process plays a crucial role in determining the long-term success of the procedure.

Pre- and post-surgery physiotherapy should be a core part of this process as each offer unique benefits.

For anyone facing orthopaedic surgery, considering physiotherapy as part of the treatment plan is a step towards a smoother, more successful recovery.