Last month, I shared the challenges that I faced following repair of a left biceps tendon rupture. Other than walking, the first six weeks I was relegated to minimal physical activity. For another six weeks, I was restricted to lower body movements. Once all restrictions were lifted, I still had a long way to go in order to regain my pre-surgical state of physical fitness. So much for a three-month recovery.
As part of every post-operative game plan, I instruct my patients on when and how to transition back to their exercise routine. Just as with any “injury,” the recommendations vary with the type of surgery and current level of fitness. I also remind patients that once I lift their restrictions, they should start off slow and easy.
When it comes to aerobic exercise, I always recommend the rule of tens. Start by choosing a low impact exercise approved by your physician. Brisk walking on a treadmill or an easy pace on an elliptical trainer are good examples. Choose a duration and intensity of which you can maintain a sensation of being slightly winded (not huffing and puffing). This initial choice should always be based on perceived effort rather than the usual numbers you punch into the machine. When changing duration and/or intensity, limit these adjustments to ten percent increases on subsequent workouts.
When your physician allows you to perform resistance exercise, choose a weight at which you can perform twenty repetitions – but only perform twelve. Keep in mind that your ligaments, tendons, and other supportive structures often lag behind your gains in muscle strength. Also, an imbalance of strength among different parts of your body affects your ergonomics and makes you more prone to injury.
Never hesitate to ask for your physician’s advice on how to safely transition your activity during recovery from surgery. Recovering from a needless sports-related injury can be more difficult than the surgery itself.