Postoperative deconditioning describes the effects of a prolonged period of reduced activity after surgery. Deconditioning is defined as a complex process of physiological change following inactivity, bed rest, or a sedentary lifestyle. Due to the body’s need to recuperate after a surgical procedure or a prolonged stay in the hospital, patients may be limited in their daily functioning. However, deconditioning can lead to impairments in cognitive function (e.g. reduced attention and focus, “fogginess”), continence, and life skills. The most predictable effects of postoperative deconditioning are seen in the musculoskeletal system.
Common Signs and Symptoms
Postoperative deconditioning is characterized in general by a deterioration of the musculoskeletal system. Signs and symptoms of this condition include:
- Reduced muscle mass
- Decreased muscle strength (by 2-5% per day)
- Muscle shortening
- Changes in periarticular and cartilaginous joint structure
- Reduced mobility due to a marked loss of leg strength
Treatment for postoperative deconditioning focuses on helping the patient regain physical function within the limits of their recovery from surgery. A physical therapist can track each patient’s progress and adjust the intensity of rehabilitation efforts over time. Breathing exercises and cardiovascular training are important components of physical therapy due to the need to regain endurance. Patients are usually prescribed an exercise regimen to rebuild strength slowly. Balance training is especially useful when mobility has been severely affected. In aquatic physical therapy, the density of water provides more support and a lower impact environment than performing exercises on the ground.