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Pre-habilitation

In my career as a physical therapist, I’ve spent most of my time helping people rehabilitate AFTER – after surgery, after an injury, after an illness – and I can say without a doubt that the people who recover best were the ones who prepared their bodies BEFORE the event. This is called pre-habilitation.

People with a good general level of fitness (including good cardiopulmonary condition, muscle strength, and flexibility) will find it much easier and quicker to heal after a physical dilemma. Of course, you can’t always predict when you may become sick or injured, which lends importance to adopting a regular exercise routine as part of your daily life. However, if you know ahead of time that your body will be undergoing a stressful situation which will demand recovery (such as a surgery or childbirth), you have an opportunity to prepare yourself for a faster, easier, more complete recuperation.

Beyond acquiring a good general level of fitness, how you pre-habilitate depends on what type of event you will be experiencing. A rule of thumb is to gain strength and flexibility specifically in the areas that will need rehabilitating. For example, if you will be having knee surgery, strengthening the major muscles of the legs will make it easier to cope with a temporarily weakened joint. If you’ll be undergoing a hip replacement, it’s vital to gain muscle tone and flexibility to stabilize your new joint and prevent complications such as dislocation and uneven leg length.

Childbirth is a slightly different story however, and preparing for it is not unlike preparing for a marathon. No, you don’t have to build up the ability to run 26.2 miles, but you will need to train yourself for several hours of cardiovascular and muscular effort and stress. Beyond engaging in cardio (always use the Talk Test – if you are breathing so hard that you cannot carry on a conversation, you need to slow down), you should aim to increase muscular endurance, specifically in your core muscles. Expanding abdomens inhibit sit-ups, so you will need to be more creative with your core exercises. Try front and side planks and bridges, but always build up slowly, taking care never to exhaust or injure yourself.

In the end, it’s best to incorporate fitness into your daily life, but if you know you will be undergoing a physical event such as surgery or childbirth, do your body a favor and pre-habilitate for the event. If prevention is the best medicine, pre-habilitation is the best cure. Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan