When Should I Do PreHab to Prepare for Surgery?

You’ve either decided that now is the right time for joint replacement surgery (or another surgery) and scheduled the date, or you’ve come to terms with the inevitable—you will be undergoing an elective procedure in the future. Either way, we hope that you take a moment to relish in this leap forward. As we’re sure you know already, the road from pain to an actual surgery tend to be long. We hope you’re confident in your decision to step toward a pain-free future.

On that note, what’s your plan to get ready for musculoskeletal surgery? To get into your best mental and physical shape before surgery, it's important to PreHab before surgery. PreHab means actively mentally, physically and environmentally getting ready for an upcoming procedure. Through PreHab, recovery actually begins before surgery.

What exactly is PreHab? PreHab is actively putting forth effort to get your body and mind prepared for surgery. A solid PreHab program should involve all of the elements (like nutrition, exercise and pain management) that are proven to better outcomes and reduce recovery times. PreHab is similar to Rehab, with the difference being that PreHab happens before the fact to direct you down the path of success. Essentially, PreHab gets you to take an active role in controlling how well the procedure goes and how quickly you will bounce back from it. It’s a reversal of the old school thinking that surgery success falls completely on how well your care team has done their jobs.

Now that you know what PreHab is and (hopefully) decided that it’s important, let’s talk timing. So, when should you start doing PreHab before surgery? When is PreHab most effective?

When do I PreHab before surgery?

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When should you PreHab before surgery? We hear this question a LOT from people awaiting their operation. The answer is simple: ASAP. Ideally, you should have at least 2-3 months to get in your best health before an elective surgery (like joint replacement, ACL repair, back surgery, shoulder surgery etc.).

The reason being: some bad habits that put you at greater risk during surgery (like smoking) must be broken 2-3 weeks before the procedure to take effect. In addition, the more time you have to form healthy habits and engage in a PreHab program that will steer you towards a greater outcome, the better.

Depending on the city in which you are going for the procedure, the time of the year, and ultimately, your surgeon’s availability, you may no have a lot of lead time before surgery. If you can predict an upcoming surgery, you can't start to early getting mentally and physically ready for surgery.

If you have any questions about timing or starting PreHab, please send us an email.

5 Reasons Why You Need Time to PreHab Before Surgery

Having enough time to prepare for surgery is key. Engaging in a program that sets you up for a faster and safer recovery is very powerful. The more you chip away at the various things that'll make you healthier and lower risk on surgery day, the easier recovery will be. What you do today affects your tomorrow.

Here are the reasons why you should dedicate time each day to PreHab.

1. Lose Extra Weight = Safer Surgery

Although not everyone will have weight to lose, majority of us could benefit from shedding some extra pounds before procedure day. After all, extra weight affects many parts of your body. For instance, your joints (specifically knees) are affected by extra weight. As reported, “Every pound of excess weight exerts about 4 pounds of extra pressure on the knees.” This means that someone who is 15 pounds over weight has 60 pounds of extra pressure on their knees. Having enough time to introduce proper nutrition and safe, low-impact exercises will have an enormous benefit on your recovery.

Here are ways to lose weight before surgery (even if you're in pain).

2. Do the Exercises and Movements that Matter

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Exercises are probably the number one thing that people think of when they think “PreHab”. Rightfully so, because if you're having a joint or musculoskeletal surgery, gaining strength, flexibility, mobility, and range of motion in the supporting muscles around your surgical area is critical PreHab exercises will strengthen the muscles to support your new joint, improve circulation, enhance your balance and more. Reducing physical recovery time and boosting healing is directly related to how much work you put in beforehand.

By just running through a daily 10-15 minute program, the further ahead you will be in recovery.

Here are 10 PreHab exercises you need to prepare for joint surgery.

Here are 10 PreHab exercises for back pain or back surgery.

3. Get Your Body Acquainted with Superfoods that Heal

You know that saying, “you are what you eat”? Well, it’s true. Having the time to get your body hopped up on the superfood groups that boost your immune system, support the building of new muscle and collagen, and even reduce your need for a post-op blood transfusion, is one of the best things you can do before your operation. Keep in mind that making major dietary changes can be shocking to your body. Always consult your doctor before drastically changing your diet. Also, in the 14 days prior to surgery, consult your doctor again about your pre-operative diet. It is often recommended that some vitamins, supplements or particularly nutrient-dense foods are eliminated from at this time.

Here is a detailed post on what to eat before surgery.

4. Add Drug-Free Pain Methods to Your Toolbox

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Not everything involved in surgery preparation is physical. In fact, a large part of preparing for surgery is mental. This means dealing with anxiety about pain, fears of the unknown, and other “what-ifs” that can go along with surgery. Practicing mindfulness, meditation, and other relaxation practices are proven to reduce the effects of anxiety, depression, and mental illness—all of which, if uncontrolled, are linked to massive spikes in surgery complications.

Here are some alternative pain management techniques to manage pain (narcotic-free).

Read up on practicing mindfulness before surgery to increase mental preparedness.

5. Control Possible Diseases or Conditions (like Diabetes)

Not everyone that goes in for a hip or knee replacement has a secondary disease or chronic condition, but those who do are at a significantly higher risk for complication. Having enough lead time to control blood sugars and any other secondary diseases you may have is crucial for surgery success.If you are diabetic, your surgeon will be closely monitoring and recording your blood sugar prior to surgery. If your blood sugar is uncontrolled, there’s a good chance your surgeon will have to reschedule surgery for your own safety. PreHab, whether you’re diabetic or not, offers recipes and foods to eat in order to keep blood sugars level down.

Read more about diabetes and joint replacement surgery.


You have the power to make your surgery recovery easier. Introducing the habits, exercises, activities, and minor changes that will have the greatest impact on the success of your surgery is the single best way to utilize this preoperative period. Remember, the more you do today, the better off you’ll be tomorrow.

Are you having ACL, joint or back surgery? Let PeerWell guide you through the daily activities tat will greatly impact your recovery. Join PeerWell and get started today on today's PreHab lesson.

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Hi, I'm Grace. I write and research about hip and knee replacements, PreHab before orthopedic surgery & ReHab. Content advised or co-authored with physicians (MD) and orthopedic surgeons (OS).

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