A holistic diet nourishes the body, so the right diet plan greatly impacts recovery and healing speed. The best diet contains dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and fruit, supplemented with lean beef, chicken, and fish. Antioxidant-rich foods like turmeric help decrease pain and swelling at the surgery site because of their strong anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties. Protein is also key because it contains amino acids, which help heal wounds and regenerate muscle tissue. Most people’s stomachs can’t handle heartier meals after surgery, so chicken soup or homemade fruit and vegetable juices using celery, tomatoes, carrots, beets, and apples are best for digestion.
Supplementing with omega-3s reduces inflammation and gets blood circulating to different body areas to promote post-surgery healing. Glucosamine helps repair connective tissue and a vitamin B-complex helps the body deal with surgery-related stress. Applied topically, neem and emu oils are really great for wound healing. Skin-healing gels containing vitamins C, D, A, and E and honey can provide support for parts of the body that have undergone surgery.
–Melissa Gallagher, MS, CNHP, CWC, founder, Healthy Being Wellness Boutique and Natural Health Services, St. Petersburg, Florida
Patients should go into surgery very well hydrated because tissue cells live on oxygen and water. Post-surgery hydration is also important because there’s more demand on the tissues for healing and repair, and dehydration disturbs normal cellular activity.
In most cases, early movement is optimal after surgery. Movement enhances lymphatic circulation, which carries toxins and inflammation out of the circulatory system and increases oxygen and nutritional transport for healing. These initial movements also lead to walking. When possible, patients should go through gentle pool exercises after surgery. The hydrostatic pressure helps transport fluids throughout the entire body. Also use compressive garments, ice, elevation, movement, or decongestive massage as soon as possible to minimize inflammation, which is critical for attaining normal movement.
Start physical therapy immediately after surgery because it gets you moving in the right direction sooner than you might on your own. There are many approaches, such as manual therapy, which is hands-on therapy that corrects alignment, and exercise therapy, which is hands-off therapy that improves strength and flexibility. You may have to try different approaches to determine which one is best for your body.
–Mindy Marantz, MSPT, GCFP, director, Healthwell Physical Therapy Group, San Francisco, California
Mental health counselor
Studies show patients heal faster, have less bleeding during surgery, and need less medicine when using guided imagery—a focused intention to let go of what the left side of our brain is thinking and allow the body to naturally heal. This approach produces an altered state much like meditation or hypnosis.
During recovery, picture yourself in perfect health walking or exercising. Imagine feeling happy or a smell that makes you feel good, and say everything in the present (“I am feeling happy”). It works best when done in a relaxing place like a chair or bed. Even close your office door and take five or ten minutes to imagine the scene.
During the two weeks prior to surgery, listen to a CD that combines music and words once a day. Some, like Meditations to Promote Successful Surgery and Surgery Pack (Health Journeys, 2002), are tailored to surgery patients. Most doctors will also let you take an Ipod into surgery because listening to the music has been shown to speed up the surgery and may lead to fewer complications. Play the same healing-focused type of CD for a couple of weeks post surgery to speed up the recovery period. If you are constantly giving the body suggestions to heal, the natural processes that want to stabilize your body and make it healthy take over.
–Linda Goodwin, RN, PhD, mental health counselor, professor at the University of Florida Counselor Education program, Gainesville, Florida