Scheduled for surgery? You’re no doubt thinking hard about what to do before and after to support optimal healing. Just in time, several good-news reports reveal that simple steps at home — and with your doctor’s help — can slash infection risk, bolster immunity, reduce pain and help you recover better. Here’s what you can do:
Check for staph bacteria. Post-surgery infections hit up to 10 percent of patients, leading to longer hospital stays, more drugs and slower healing. But we know that as many as 85 percent of staph infections after heart and joint-replacement surgeries come from bacteria the patient brought with them. So having your doctor test your nose for staph bacteria a week or so before surgery is smart. If you’re a carrier, the doc can have you swab your nose with an antibacterial ointment in the days before surgery and then provide a staph-busting antibacterial wipe two hours before surgery.
Those precautions cut the risk of self-infection by 71 percent for staph and 59 percent for other infections.
Relax before your procedure. It can reduce pain and the amount of pain medication you need by 36 percent. That, in turn, can help you heal faster. We like progressive muscle relaxation and breathing exercises that tame tension by focusing your attention on each slow, easy inhalation and exhalation. Try doing it in the days and hours before surgery to reduce levels of stress hormones and cool post-surgery inflammation; you’ll heal more quickly.
But don’t stop there. Try guided imagery after surgery. Use your imagination to picture oxygen and nutrients infusing wellness and healing throughout your internal repair zone, including the skin. Such visualization has been proven to help people achieve good knee stability after joint surgery, boost levels of skin-mending collagen after gallbladder removal and reduce pain after heart valve and other cardiac operations.
Clean up the smart way: Before you leave for the hospital, take a bath or shower. Use an antibacterial wash or wipe if your doctor recommends it, then put on clean underwear, socks and clothing that hasn’t been worn since being laundered.
But leave your hairy chin, legs and underarms alone. Stop shaving 48 hours before surgery. Tiny nicks and irritation can invite bacteria inside. If hair is slated to be removed for surgery, ask your doctor or nurse to use clippers instead of a razor or a depilatory or to skip the hair removal altogether.
Eat right, exercise regularly. Every cell in your body is made from the foods you eat, so give it the building blocks it’ll need for healing: five to nine servings of fruits and veggies a day and 100 percent whole grains and DHA omega-3 rich salmon and ocean trout are a good start. Also, cut back on foods packed with saturated fat. Eating a diet that’s low in fat, with no sugar or syrup added and that has only 100 percent whole grains can lessen inflammation after surgery, helping you heal faster.
Add 30 minutes of daily walking, proven to keep immunity strong. Can’t walk? Upper-body exercises, using bands or an arm cycle and chair-based exercise can do the trick for you.
Aim for normal blood sugar levels before, during and after surgery. If you have diabetes or prediabetes, effective blood sugar control helps lower infection risk.
Kick the butts. Tobacco use boosts your odds for a post-surgery lung infection and may slow healing. Plan to start breathing free eight weeks prior to surgery.
Stop some supplements, and tell all. Your doctor will advise you about which medications and over-the-counter remedies to stop before surgery.
Make sure you ask about DHA omega-3 and baby aspirin — in some specific situations, it’s good to keep taking them (a popular supplement is )– and also about any herbs you use. Plenty of botanicals can interfere with healing.
For example, gingko and ginseng may cause bleeding; St. John’s wort may increase or decrease the effects of medications given to you during or after your procedure. It’s smart to stop two weeks before your appointment in the operating room.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chairman of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit
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