4 steps to recovering from orthopedic surgery

Physical therapy is a key component of rehabilitation from any orthopedic surgery. Whether it’s a total joint procedure or a less invasive arthroscopic procedure, physical therapy is vital to optimizing your recovery and restoring you to full function.

Rehabbing after surgery starts with a complete physical therapy evaluation, looking at things like range of motion, strength and the surgeon’s recovery protocol. If there are certain activities you want to get back to or job-related duties you have to achieve, the physical therapist will craft a plan based on those goals. Using their knowledge of healing, the PT will make sure you progress safely and quickly through the four stages of rehabilitation so you can meet your rehab goals.

  1. Restoring motion
    A typical protocol following an orthopedic procedure starts with gentle or passive therapy. The physical therapist assists you with range of motion for the particular joint.
  2. Active range of motion
    After your follow up visit with the surgeon or when the protocol indicates, you’ll gradually progress through assisted and active range of motion exercises. During this phase, the physical therapist will also provide guidance as you begin to resume activity.
  3. Strengthening
    Once active range of motion is restored, you’ll move to the strengthening phase. That will involve a variety of exercises and many different pieces of equipment.
  4. Restoring optimal movement
    The last phase of recovery puts all the pieces together to help you move efficiently and effectively through all of the daily tasks you need to perform.

Many surgeons refer patients to physical therapy following surgery. But depending on the surgery, you may just be given a list of exercises to do on your own. Without a physical therapist to help guide your progression, monitor your performance of the exercises, provide tips to make them most effective and look out for any post-surgical complications, you are missing a key partner in your recovery process. In Iowa, most insurance plans allow you to see a PT without a referral, but you can also request one from your surgeon.


Undergoing or recovering from surgery? The Des Moines University Physical Therapy Clinic can help. Call 515-271-1717 to schedule an appointment.

Tracy Porter, D.P.T.

Tracy Porter is a physical therapist and assistant director of clinical education for the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Des Moines University.

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