Exercise is one of the hardest habits to form. Especially when you’re obese, it can be physically painful. These reasons are just a few of why some bariatric surgery programs require physical therapy before bariatric surgery. Exercise is important because it burns calories and strengthens muscles. The physical therapist will evaluate you to see what you need to strengthen the most and set up a treatment plan to reach some goals. You’ll have multiple visits over a few weeks, which will help establish an exercise routine for you. Physical therapy before bariatric surgery strengthens your abdominal muscles and gets you into an exercise routine.
Physical Therapy Before Bariatric Surgery
You may be wondering why you would need physical therapy before bariatric surgery. At first glance, it makes more sense to have physical therapy after surgery. But when you think more carefully, you’ll realize there are several reasons it’s a good idea to attend physical therapy before bariatric surgery.
The most obvious reason is that physical therapy before bariatric surgery will help establish an exercise routine. Since many obese patients probably aren’t getting the exercise they need, a physical therapist can establish a treatment plan that includes multiple visits. For example, three physical therapy sessions per week for four weeks would get you into an exercise habit that you can continue after surgery.
PT Helps Mobility
When you’re severely obese like I was, mobility is a challenge. I used to get out of breath just walking down the hall. I had trouble squatting and getting up from the floor. My physical therapy before bariatric surgery helped me gain mobility. Alter G wrote an article that describes how physical therapy boosts outcomes before bariatric and orthopedic surgery. By exercising more, you’re burning more calories and likely losing weight. Alter G states that weight loss means you have better mobility and less joint stress. Less joint stress means exercise is less painful.
Mobility after surgery is really important. While you’re still in the hospital, the hospital staff wants you up and walking to prevent blood clots. By having physical therapy before bariatric surgery, a qualified healthcare provider can assess your mobility and functional status. They can work with you to improve your mobility so that when you have to walk a few hours after surgery, it will be easier and more comfortable for you.
There are so many benefits to exercise. Physical therapy before bariatric surgery will help you reap some of those benefits. For example, you’ll start building muscle. Not only does muscle burn fat, but you’ll be strengthening your abdominal muscles and the surrounding area. This strengthening of your muscles will help so much when you’re recovering from surgery. Remember how I said they’ll get you up to walk a few hours after surgery? Yea, your stomach is going to be so sore at that time. It’s going to be difficult to move, but you have to do it.
However, the muscles that you strengthened during your physical therapy sessions are going to help you so much. Those are the muscles that you’ll depend on as your stomach is healing and sore from the operation. Those muscles will help support you as you start to walk. You may still be groggy from the anesthesia but walking around will help lift that fog a little bit. Plus, you may have trapped air. Walking will help loosen that air and have it pass. The muscles you built during your physical therapy sessions are going to help improve your balance and posture.
The Importance of Exercise
You’ve heard over and over how important exercise is during your bariatric surgery journey. In case it hasn’t sunk in yet, I’m going to tell you again. Exercise helps you lose weight. When you exercise, you burn calories which helps your weight loss. If you really want to get the most benefit from your tool, exercise will be a part of your life. Not only will it help you lose weight, but it will help you keep it off. It’s part of a healthy lifestyle, which is the whole reason we’re doing so much work to lose weight.
Additionally, Alter G states that weight loss before your operation will reduce your complication risk. The cardiovascular exercises like walking, biking or swimming will help strengthen your heart and lungs. Having a strong heart and lungs means less risk of complications after your operation.
You’re also going to sleep and feel better. As you transition to depending on food less for emotional comfort, you’re going to need something to replace it. Exercise is a great replacement. It releases endorphins which helps you feel good.
Physical therapy before bariatric surgery helps you get all of these great benefits. You’ll strengthen your heart, lungs and muscles. You’ll burn calories to help boost your weight loss. Establishing an exercise routine will help you continue exercising after surgery. It will help with your mobility. The physical therapist will recommend an appropriate amount of exercise for your unique situation. It’s really a smart idea to go to physical therapy before bariatric surgery.
The Physical Therapy Process
At your first consult with the physical therapist, they are going to ask you some standard questions about your medical and health history. They may take your vital signs and weight to establish a baseline. The physical therapy team will then evaluate you by asking you to perform a few standard mobility and strength tests.
You may have to do a test called the Six-Minute Walk Test. During this test, they’ll take your vitals beforehand to see where you start. Then, you’ll walk for six minutes at a comfortable pace. They’ll track how far you’ve walked. Afterward, they’ll take your vitals again to see if there are any changes or if you have shortness of breath. If mobility is a challenge, this test will help the physical therapist establish where you’re at so they can make an appropriate treatment plan.
You may also have to do some other mobility tests, like seeing how difficult or easy it is for you to get up and down from a chair. They’re also going to assess how motivated you are to keep with an exercise routine.
After the evaluation, they’re going to recommend a treatment plan that may include multiple visits. For example, they may want to see you twice a week for six weeks. This multi-visit approach helps the physical therapist establish an exercise routine to help you lose weight.
Since each treatment plan is personalized, it’s hard to say what exercises the physical therapist will have you do. You can bet they’ll give you exercise tips and show you the correct way to perform exercises. You’ll probably do a mix of cardio, strength training and stretching.
The exercises will likely progress every week as your muscles get stronger. By challenging your muscles and doing things differently, you’re going to get stronger to help with your mobility after surgery.
My Physical Therapy Experience
I had my physical therapy consultation about two months into my pre-op journey. During my consultation, I filled out a questionnaire about my medical history and my current exercise routine. The physical therapist reviewed my chart, and we discussed my weight loss goals. We went over my past exercise history and talked about the exercises I enjoyed doing.
Next, I completed the six-minute walk test. During this test, I walked back and forth between two lines at a steady pace. There is apparently a certain number of times you have to complete the circuit in order to pass. I barely made it. Interestingly, my pulse ox went down from the baseline established before the test to when they took it afterward. The physical therapist explained that it probably had to do with my exercise-induced asthma, as the bronchial tubes are probably inflamed from the exercise.
Afterward, the physical therapist gave me some exercises to do at home to begin strengthening my abdomen. She also gave me the referral to a physical therapy location closer to my house so that I wouldn’t have to drive so far.
My Follow-Up Appointments
I was prescribed a plan where I met with the physical therapist three times a week for four weeks and twice a week for two weeks. I scheduled all of the appointments ahead of time so that I could get the time slots I wanted.
At these appointments, I started with cardio. I would either do the treadmill, the bike, the arm bike or walking up and down a set of stairs. From there, each week was different. Sometimes we’d focus on my abdomen, and I’d do exercises to strengthen those muscles. Other times, I’d do an arm series or squats. It was kind of fun going to these appointments and learning new exercises. It allowed me to dip my feet in the water and try out different types of exercises. I also had a positive group of physical therapists who encouraged me along the way.
Overall, I believe these appointments were helpful. They happened right after I was dealing with the aftermath of my divorce, so they helped keep me on track for surgery. It was also easy to plan my workouts during that time since I did those sessions three days a week. I felt the physical therapy before bariatric surgery helped me transition to the gym, which I joined shortly after I completed my required sessions. It did help me have better mobility, and it was nice to be surrounded by people who were cheering me on every day.
Work It, Girl!
Physical therapy before bariatric surgery strengthens your abdominal muscles and gets you into an exercise routine that you can carry through to your post-op healthy lifestyle. It sets you up for success after surgery. The hospital staff wants you up and walking a few hours after surgery to help prevent blood clots. Physical therapy before bariatric surgery helps strengthen the muscles you’ll need to move as your stomach heals. Exercise boosts your weight loss and can help you deal with emotions post-op. They’ll evaluate you to create a treatment plan customized to you. You’ll progress towards goals and see the physical therapist several times. Follow their advice to work your tool as best as you can!
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Physical therapy before bariatric surgery allows you to strengthen your core muscles to make it easier to move, gives you ideas to start exercising, gets you into an exercise routine before surgery, helps you lose weight and makes exercise less painful. The resulting weight loss means better mobility and reduces your complication risk after surgery.