The decision to undergo surgery can be a difficult one to make. Sometimes, the option may be sprung on you. In other instances, you may have had the time to come to terms with it. A well informed and prepared patient will most certainly undergo a less traumatic pre and post-operative journey.
Here are a few self-care tips to help you recover from your gynaecological surgery.
Undergoing surgery can be associated with emotional highs (I’m cured, it’s done, I can move on) and lows (I’m still in pain, I can’t lead a normal life, I need more treatment). What we now know from research is that emotions can contribute to and intensify pain. It is not only the tissues that are in trauma or that have been surgically repaired. This is because emotions are a consequence of chemical reactions in our bodies.
Having a positive outlook has been proven to improve outcomes for humans. If you believe something will work, it will have a greater likelihood of working as compared to negative thoughts or catastrophisation. This means, your experience may, in fact, be a pleasant one if you are able to alter your mindset (is the glass half full or empty?).
Make a list of the things that bring you joy – it may be reading a book, music, walking, speaking to a friend or partner. Whatever it is, remember this activity when you are overwhelmed and do it! This will help to release endorphins (happy hormones) and regulate the chemical reaction to assist you in overcoming your emotions during difficult times.
Our autonomic nervous system is part of the nervous system that controls our internal organs and operates largely unconsciously. It has two branches – the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS is the “fight or flight” system that triggers our stress responses and is characterised by an increased heart rate, increased blood flow to the muscles and decreased blood flow to the skin. The PNS, on the other hand, is responsible for the stimulation of “rest and digest” activities that take place when we are in a resting state.
But how does it help to know this?
On average, adults take approximately 20000 breaths per day. Our breathing muscle, the diaphragm, attaches to our breast bone, ribs, spine, abdominal muscles, and the pelvic floor. Studies have shown that people in pain breathe differently. Mindful breathing helps us manage our pain, control our bowel and bladder function, the way we move, and how we manage stress and our mood.
Now, focus on how you breathe.
Do your upper ribs move more than your lower ribs? Are your shoulders near your ears? Does your belly move more than your lower ribs?
Now think about a situation when you were stressed or in pain. How did your breathing change? Did it become shallower, more rapid? Spurred on by the release of cortisol and adrenaline, were you ready to fight or run away from the situation? Are you constantly stressed out? Constantly breathing shallow and rapidly?
Taking slow deep breaths helps us maintain control over our physiological functions by moving us into a more PNS control status and focus on the present. Taking such slow deep breaths, at 6 breaths per 1 minute, into the base of your lungs has been shown to help increase PNS activity. How easy is that! You may find it helpful to breathe with a towel supporting your wound(s) to splint.
Make every breath count – stay mindful and present.
Maintaining physical activity is just as important as resting after a gynae surgery. In fact, walking is highly encouraged after any kind of gynaecologic surgery. However, don’t forget to listen to your body. Pace yourself and if you begin to feel tired, take some time to rest. Be sure to heed the surgeon’s advice on heavy-lifting in the early days and weeks. In some instances, you may have a lifting limit moving forward.
Other exercises you can consider after the urinary catheter is removed are gentle pelvic floor squeezes to help with swelling and discomfort. These exercises also help the brain to find those muscles again as the effects of medication, inactivity and surgery wear off. You can acquaint yourself with a woman’s pelvic floor here. Don’t forget to brace your pelvic floor muscles when you cough, sneeze, get out of bed or a chair to help activate the core muscles.
They say “a burden shared, is a burden halved” (T.A. Webb). Have you spoken to someone about your experience and journey? You may have felt like you are in a washing machine, and have now been hung to dry. You might be feeling isolated and vulnerable. This may be a good opportunity to speak with your partner, a friend, or a medical professional to help make sense of your journey and learn how to navigate your recovery. We’re here for you, too!
After surgery, your bowel movements may take some time to become regular again. Your stools may be loose, or you could become constipated. Whichever the case, respond to the urge and don’t strain. Straining or ignoring the call places unnecessary downward pressure on recovering tissue.
Diet is an essential factor in helping your body recover after gynaecological surgery. Bowel function should regulate on its own after a while, but you can manage it in the meantime with an adequate diet and fluid intake. If your stools are loose, eat foods high in fiber to make them firmer. A Type 3 or 4 stool on the Bristol stool chart is the aim. If stools are on the firmer side, make sure you have a well-balanced diet of fruits and vegetables and ensure you are drinking at least 2 L of water/day. Sometimes, using a footstool and wound support can help to pass motion easier. You could visit a dietician for more specific dietary advice.
Creating a routine helps to create certainty in an uncertain time. Take one day at a time or set a timetable for your week with time allocated for:
- Light chores
- Things you love to do
And, don’t forget to ask for help and be patient with yourself and others around you too.
I hope these self-care tips for your gynae surgery help empower you on your road to recovery.
If you feel you would benefit more from specialised and personalised advice for recovering from your gynaecological surgery, please reach out to us. Call us at 9780 7274 or email us to discuss how we can work together to help you embrace life.
You may also visit our website to learn about other women’s conditions we treat through physiotherapy and how we can help you.