Exercise After General Anesthesia

Most operations require a recovery period, during which you gradually build up the ability to perform your usual activities.

You may receive guidance from a physical therapist on specific exercises that will help restore your physical abilities. In addition to the direct impact of the surgery on your body, the use of a general anesthetic can affect your ability to exercise or perform physically demanding tasks soon after surgery.

Initial Recovery Period

Right after recovering from an operation using a general anesthetic, you typically move to a recovery room in the hospital or clinic where you were treated. When the anesthetic has worn off and you awaken, some aftereffects may continue, such as sleepiness, disorientation or a slightly foggy quality to your thinking.

During this initial recovery period, which may last hours, days or weeks, your mobility will be highly restricted, potentially limiting you to your bed.

Once you feel well enough to get out of bed, keep your walks short and use a walker. Have someone nearby to spot you at all times.

What to be Aware Of

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The aftereffects of general anesthesia usually fade within 24 to 48 hours of surgery. During this period, you may experience nausea or vomiting, a headache, a sore throat, shivering, fatigue or confusion. While none of these common side effects expressly interfere with gentle exercise, avoid any activity that seems to worsen the symptoms.

For example, immediately after the operation, just getting out of bed and standing upright may worsen nausea; tailor your movements accordingly. Operating machinery or driving in traffic are usually prohibited during the initial 24 hours after anesthesia; likewise, avoid cycling or walking along public thoroughfares or using gym equipment.

Starting Exercise

Beginning a few days after the operation, your body should be completely recovered from any aftereffects of the general anesthetic. From this point on, your limitations on exercise depend on the nature of your operation. Follow the guidelines established by your doctor or physical therapist. Watch for warning signs such as increased pain, swelling or redness around any incisions, or fever. If any symptoms worsen during exercise, immediately cease the activity and consult with your medical provider. Another reliable gauge is your breathing; check that you can comfortably carry on a conversation doing any form of exercise, whether you're walking across the room or going for a jog.

Forms of Post-Operation Exercise

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If the word "exercise" usually brings track suits or barbells to mind, you may be surprised at all the everyday activities that are considered exercise for a recovering post-op patient. For example, after heart surgery, just lifting your hands over your shoulders for a long period is exercise; just blow-drying your hair may be inadvisable during initial recovery.

On the other hand, regular physical exercise is vital to recovering from many forms of surgery, including weight-loss operations or joint replacement surgeries. Where exercise is critical to recovery, physical therapists usually provide detailed instructions or supervision of the necessary routine.