Before any major event, athletes endure months of intense physical training in order to prime their bodies for the stress of competition to ensure the best possible performance and outcome on the day of their event.
However, preparing your body for major stresses isn't just for athletes. Within the medical world, an emerging health trend called prehabilitation (or "prehab") is spreading, with the hopes of preparing patients for a different sort of stress on the body — surgery and recovery.
The idea behind prehabilitation for elective (non-emergency) surgery is that optimizing a patient's overall health will decrease complications during and after surgery and improve the chances of returning to normal life activities sooner.
Sometimes patients are admitted to a hospital with a newfound cancer diagnosis which has directly and indirectly deteriorated their health, but may require major surgery to treat it.
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When they arrive deconditioned with decreased strength, poor appetite, and unfixed medical issues, surgical outcomes for patients taken straight to surgery are grim compared to a more elective setting.
For patients with cancer, modern cancer surgeons use prehabilitation over time — as long as several months to as short as a couple weeks — to improve surgical outcomes which directly impact both short-term and long-term survival.
Even using prehabilitation in the setting of pre-surgery chemotherapy (when chemotherapy over several months is used to reduce the tumor size) will improve the chances of having complication-free cancer surgery a few months from now.
The importance of preventing complications cannot be overstated.
Not only do complications decrease survival, but even if patients survive the complications, their post-surgery chemotherapy or radiation options can be delayed or even completely omitted if they never recover from their major complications.
Prehabilitation focuses on physical fitness, nutrition, and fixing reversible medical problems, with the goal of making sure a patient's body is strong enough to handle the stress of surgery and the recovery needed to return to normal activities of daily living.
Doctors, nutritionists, and physical therapists work together to create a coordinated medication, diet, and exercise regimen tailored to each patient's specific needs.
This may include smoking cessation counseling and nicotine patches; or a few weeks of outpatient physical therapy to improve mobility to prevent falls and blood clots after surgery.
It may be as simple as prescribing protein supplements to improve muscle mass, especially in patients who have lost 5-10 percent of their weight due to cancer-related issues. There are even special "immunonutrition" drinks which boost the immune system to decrease surgery-related complications.