Prehabilitation: The Role of Physical Therapy Before Surgery

Undergoing surgery can be a significant life event, and preparing your body for the procedure is crucial for a smoother recovery and better outcomes. Prehabilitation, often referred to as "prehab," involves a proactive approach to physical therapy before surgery. It's about optimizing your physical health, strength, and mobility to enhance your body's ability to handle the stress of surgery and improve postoperative recovery.

Understanding Prehabilitation:

Prehabilitation is a concept gaining momentum in the medical world. While rehabilitation focuses on recovery after surgery, prehabilitation focuses on preparing your body before surgery. This proactive approach involves working with physical therapists to address any existing physical limitations, improve muscle strength, enhance cardiovascular fitness, and educate patients about what to expect during recovery.

The Benefits of Prehabilitation:

  1. Reduced Complications: Prehabilitation can help reduce the risk of postoperative complications. Strengthening specific muscle groups can aid in maintaining proper body mechanics, preventing strain on incision sites and joints.

  2. Improved Recovery Time: A body that is in better physical condition is better equipped to recover efficiently after surgery. Prehab can help speed up the recovery process, reduce hospital stays, and minimize the need for rehabilitation.

  3. Increased Strength and Endurance: Surgery can lead to muscle atrophy due to limited activity during recovery. Prehab helps build muscle strength and cardiovascular endurance, making it easier to regain physical abilities post-surgery.

  4. Enhanced Psychological Well-being: Feeling physically prepared for surgery can alleviate anxiety and boost your confidence, contributing to a more positive surgical experience.

Key Components of Prehabilitation:

  1. Assessment and Individualized Planning: A thorough assessment by a physical therapist identifies your strengths, weaknesses, and specific needs. From there, an individualized prehabilitation plan is created.

  2. Muscle Strengthening: Prehabilitation typically includes exercises that target specific muscle groups related to the upcoming surgery. For example, core strengthening exercises may be beneficial for abdominal surgeries.

  3. Cardiovascular Fitness: Cardiovascular health is essential for surgery readiness. Low-impact aerobic exercises like walking or stationary cycling can improve cardiovascular fitness.

  4. Range of Motion Exercises: Keeping your joints flexible and mobile is crucial. Gentle stretching exercises help prevent stiffness and promote circulation.

  5. Education: Prehab provides education about what to expect during the recovery process, potential challenges, and how to manage them effectively.

Who Can Benefit from Prehabilitation:

Prehabilitation is beneficial for a wide range of surgeries, including joint replacement, cardiac surgery, cancer surgeries, and more. It's especially valuable for individuals who may have pre-existing physical limitations that could affect their recovery.


Prehabilitation is a proactive and empowering approach to surgery preparation that sets the stage for a successful recovery. By working with skilled physical therapists and engaging in exercises tailored to your specific needs, you're giving yourself the best possible chance for a smoother surgical experience and a quicker return to your daily activities. If you're facing surgery, consider discussing the option of prehabilitation with your healthcare provider to ensure you're well-prepared for your journey toward better health.

Cassie Whittaker Cassie is the Communications Coordinator for Elite Sports Medicine + Orthopedics. She has been writing and reviewing medical content since 2020.

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