So you’re still thinking of some surgical intervention for your injury – getting cut open? That’s fine – maybe it’s right for you as long as you’ve fully investigated other treatments and have second opinions as I discussed in Part I. Let’s now talk about what surgery can do to your body because even a surgical incision is no walk in the park.
Actually, don’t think that a controlled incision is necessarily a whole lot less stress to your body than a wound. Sure, I’d say a cut with a knife is better than a gaping wound but it’s still a great amount of stress to your body. We know that a woman who naturally tears her perineum during childbirth will heal much faster than one who is given an episiotomy.
Your adrenal glands will pump out some significant stress hormones to help you heal up and reduce inflammation. Cortisol levels will spike, just as if you were under some other acute stress. It’s a normal response but not necessarily a healthy one, especially if your stress hormones were already an issue due to your chronic pain and immobility. In fact, they most likely already were an issue since you were unable to heal on your own in the first place leading you to even consider needing surgery.
Your immune system will also rush to the aid of this medically-induced injury. It can’t rely on hospital sterilization, and of course you shouldn’t either. A hospital setting is a great place to get an infection such as resistant bacteria like MRSA and a host of other germs.
Let’s not forget possible reactions to anesthesia. This chemical has to be detoxified by your liver and for most people their liver is already having a hard enough time keeping up with other toxic loads whether it’s from their current medications, stress hormones, or unhealthy living environment.
Then there are the reactions to other medications that need to be considered – pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, and antibiotics. Each comes with a host of problems on their own and when you throw them into a drug-cocktail the end result can be questionable. The surgeons and hospital staff are going to follow protocol rather than look at your own unique biochemical individuality, aside from any possibly known allergic reactions. You have to look out for yourself, and this isn’t always easy when you’re the patient and are expected to do exactly as the good doctor tells you.
So you’re out of surgery. Now it’s time to see how well you will heal up after your surgical intervention. The success of this will be greatly determined by how healthy you were going into the surgery. Unfortunately, if you had a longstanding chronic injury, you probably weren’t very healthy in the first place. After all, truly healthy people don’t get injured, barring some accident. If or when health falters and an injury occurs, a relatively healthy individual can bounce back and won’t need surgery to try to help to resolve the problem.
But hopefully, before you head into surgery you are able to get a jump-start on your health. Fighting inflammation is a priority, and this means a diet high in healthy fats, (egg yolks, butter, pasture raised meats, fish, coconut), and little to no refined sugars. Protein intake is also very important for healing. I often suggest at least two grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight – so roughly one gram per pound.
In addition to your prior health and diet being major factors in healing, what you do with respect to rehab will be a major determining factor as to how well you recover, not only from the surgery but also from the injury that necessitated the surgery in the first place. You can’t just expect the surgery to wash all your woes away.
It would be difficult, if not impossible for me to make solid suggestions to the masses on how to properly rehab post-op. There are too many factors, many of which I’ve mentioned and then once you add in the wide ranges of surgeries available for all different areas of the body it can become quite exhausting. However, one generally good recommendation is this – move as often as you safely and comfortably can. The days of recommending immobility (think hard casts) are mostly over, yet many are still wearing boots, braces, and other devices to restrict motion. No, you don’t want to be in pain and of course you don’t want to hinder healing, but typically the more you move the better. Active recovery is a key component in healing.
Problem Corrected. Problem Still There.
Unfortunately, surgical intervention doesn’t guarantee success and typically surgical successes are nowhere close to one hundred percent resolution of the problem. Many times people don’t get what they were expecting which is relief from some chronic pain.
I’d say the most important thing to realize here is that surgery doesn’t correct muscle imbalances. Muscle imbalances occur whenever there is some stress to the nervous system which in turn reflects itself on the musculoskeletal system. Regardless of the outcome, zero or full success, I’ve never seen surgery correct these imbalances. This means that the true reason for the problem hasn’t been identified and treated properly. It also means that the problem (pain) can return – either in the area where the surgical intervention was or in some other area due to the relationship of joint mechanics (see many other SockDoc articles discussing this).
When you’ve been injured, either acutely or chronically, sensory nerves called mechanoreceptors are affected. These mechanoreceptors are stimulated by sensations such as touch, pressure, vibration, and movement. If you’re lacking normal range of motion then you have altered mechanoreceptor activity. Surgery can correct this to varying degrees. Of course many natural therapies can as well. However, mechanoreceptor activity is not fully restored until all muscle imbalances are corrected. These muscle imbalances must be corrected via manual therapy techniques, (body therapies performed by skilled chiropractors, physical therapists, and other therapists). Also, dietary and metabolic concerns need to be addressed as inflammatory conditions and free radical damage provoked by a poor diet will continue to alter mechanoreceptors. Altered mechanoreceptors mean you’ll never fully heal and you’re an injury waiting to happen again. This is why you may have a “bad” knee, or “weak” arm, or a “need” for orthotics – your mechanoreceptors suck.
So Yes, Think Twice Before Surgical Intervention
Surgical intervention is sometimes needed. Of course I’m not advising anyone reading this to have, or not have surgery. I just want you to be an informed consumer. (I guess that would make you a consumer of surgery.) There is no going back once the knife hits your skin and usually there is no rush to have surgery. There are always exceptions. Get a second if not third opinion. Ask around for another physician or therapist who practices a different, and perhaps unique (to you) therapy. After all, if you do decide to have surgery you will want to see that practitioner after surgery to help you heal up and hopefully prevent that problem or others from reoccurring.