9 Tips to Recover from Surgery Faster

Check out these Do's and Don'ts for speeding up the healing process from STACK Expert Z. Altug.

recovering from an injury

If you're currently recovering from athletic surgery, you're probably itching to get past rehab and back to playing your sport. Following your doctor's orders and waiting for the healing hands of nature to work their magic are fine. But there are other things you can be doing—and not doing—to speed up the healing process. The following are simple tips to get you back in the game faster:


  • Smoke. A study showed that smokers had less improvement after lumbar stenosis surgery than non-smokers (Sanden et al., 2011). If healing was better after back surgery, there is huge chance it'll be better after other types of surgery. (See YOU Docs: Q&A on Overcoming a Tobacco Addiction.)
  • Drink. Alcohol delays healing of bone and soft tissue like tendons and muscles (Jung et al., 2011). So it's best to wait until you are completely healed after your surgery or injury before even considering drinking alcohol, even in moderation. (Read these Alcohol Basics for Athletes.)
  • Stress out. Studies have shown that controlling acute and chronic stress can have a positive effect on healing (Altemus et al., 2001, Glaser et al., 1999, Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 1995). (See Just Relax: Simple Sport Psychology Techniques to Help You Cope With Stress.)


  • Control your anger. Controlling and managing anger can have a positive effect on wound healing (Gouin et al., 2008).
  • Eat healthy. Eat a well-balanced diet before and after surgery to get optimal healing (Kratzing, 2011).
  • Get enough vitamin D. See your doctor and get your vitamin D level checked; it may help optimize recovery after injury (Stratos et al., 2012).
  • Listen to your favorite music. Music therapy has been shown to reduce pain and anxiety (Nilsson, 2008); music may also help you heal faster.
  • Try Tai Chi. Performing Tai Chi may help boost your immune system (Burke et al., 2007). (Check out Try These Three "Ancient" Exercises to Boost Your Modern-Day Game.)
  • Visualize and meditate. Visualization and meditation have been used to improve athletic performance. You can also use it before and after surgery to heal faster and to reduce pain and anxiety (Huddleston, 1996). For more information, check out www.healfaster.com.


ltemus M, Rao B, Dhabhar FS, et al.  Stress-induced changes in skin barrier function in healthy women. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 2001;117(2):309-317.

  • Burke DT, Al-Adawi S, Lee YT, et al. Martial arts as sport and therapy. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 2007;47(1):96-102.
  • Glaser R, Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Marucha PT, et al. Stress-related changes in proinflammatory cytokine production in wounds. Archives of General Psychiatry. 1999;56(5):450-456.
  • Gouin JP, Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Malarkey WB, et al.  The influence of anger expression on wound healing.  Brain Behavior and Immunity.  2008;22(5):699-708.
  • Huddleston P. Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster: A Guide of Mind-Body Techniques. Cambridge, MA: Angel River Press, 1996.
  • Jung MK, Callaci JJ, Lauing KL, et al. Alcohol exposure and mechanisms of tissue injury and repair. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research. 2011;35(3):392-399.
  • Kiecolt-Glaser K, Marucha PT, Malarkey WB, et al. Slowing of wound healing by psychological stress. Lancet.1995;346(8984):1194-1196.
  • Kratzing C. Pre-operative nutrition and carbohydrate loading. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2011;70(3):311-315.
  • Nilsson U. The anxiety- and pain-reducing effects of music interventions: a systematic review. Association of Operating Room Nurses Journal. 2008;87(4):780-807.
  • Sandén B, Försth P, Michaëlsson K.  Smokers show less improvement than non-smokers 2 years after surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis: A study of 4555 patients from the Swedish spine register.  Spine (Philadelphia, Pa. 1976).2011; 36(13):1059-1064.
  • Stratos I, Li Z, Herlyn P, Rotter R, et al. Vitamin D increases cellular turnover and functionally restores the skeletal muscle after crush injury in rats. American Journal Pathology. 2012 Dec 19. Epub ahead of print.

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