Last week, my husband had a bad accident at work that resulted in an open compound fracture of the tibia and fibula. He was rushed to the hospital for emergency orthopedic surgery to place pins to internal fix his ankle. He will be fine, but has been instructed to not place any weight on the ankle for 5 weeks. He’ll need at least 3 months of physical therapy and rehab after that.
I am not surgeon, but I do know how to heal & grow new bone and recover from surgery. Several years ago I had to have a series of surgeries myself to remove a tumor from my jawbone. My post-op progress had to be measured with periodic x-rays. The prognosis was that it would take 3 years for the bone tissue I lost to fully grow back. I replaced the bone I lost from the surgery in about a year. I plan to employ these same therapies to help my husband heal and recover from his fracture and subsequent surgery as well.
If you have had surgery, or have an impending surgery, here are some of the strategies that you can use to help you heal quickly and recover fully.
1. MOVE. As soon as your surgeon gives the OK, start moving as much as you can within your pain tolerance. Tissues in your body undergo a process called “immobilization degeneration” that can be measured at the cellular level within 24 hours of immobilization. Many tissues, particularly the cartilage in your joints, rely on movement in order to pump nutrient-rich blood in, and waste-product-filled lymph, back out. Try to get out of bed and start walking around as soon as your doctors and nurses give you the green light. Use assistance if necessary (and those socks with the sticky little grips on the bottom. You might be a little unsteady on your feet due pain meds and lack of food. Expect your balance to be if-y.)
2. VITAMIN D3- Many people know that Vitamin D is important, but they don’t know exactly why. Vitamin D has many functions in the body, but one particular one is supporting the function of T-regulatory cells. If you think of your immune system as a symphony orchestra, than T-regulatory cells are the conductor. Vitamin D helps the conductor conduct- and having the immune system all reading from the same page of music is going to be important in recovering well. If you’re recovering from some sort of orthopedic surgery, I would recommend a good quality cod liver oil, something with Vitamins A, D, and K, which are all extremely important in proper synthesis of new bone tissue. The product that I took after my surgeries and that my husband is currently taking is the Blue Ice Green Pastures fermented cod liver oil/high vitamin butter oil blend. My research indicates that this is the highest quality cod liver oil supplement you can take. Unlike many cod liver oil supplements that process the natural vitamins out of the cod liver oil and then add synthetic ones back in, the Green Pastures product uses an ancient fermentation process that concentrates the natural vitamins. In addition to taking a product like this, get out and get some sunshine. The fresh air and sunshine will do wonders for the body. It’s no accident that before we had the benefit of antibiotics, patients with tuberculosis would go to sanitariums/solariums for rest and rehabilitation. Laying in the sun and developing a tan was a way to increase Vitamin D production. You have to do this without sunscreen however, as that blocks the production of Vitamin D (and never try to tan under glass either). So be smart about your sun exposure. If you are very pale or burn easily, start very slowly and work your way up as your tan deepens. Make sure you can go inside or get out of the sun as soon as you notice the first signs of pink on your skin to avoid overdoing it and getting a sunburn. I spent a very pleasant week at the beach in September healing from my last surgery. The Vitamin D I stored not only helped me heal, but also avoid a period of depression that winter that I had thought was normal.
3. BONE BROTH. Acai and goji and cocao get all the credit. Probably because of their rich, vibrant colors. Bone broth might not be much to look at it, but it is at least as much as superfood at those Amazonian juggernauts, maybe more so because it can be made from the leftovers & scraps. Its an excellent way to get the most bang for your buck from the grassfed and pastured meats you are buying. Not only that, but its is full of calcium and minerals for bone growth as well as collagen synthesis. I made a big batch of bone broth before my surgeries so that I could sip on it for the weeks after I recovered. I’m giving my husband a mug of broth just about everyday. The key to really nutritive bone broth is to let bones sit, covered with water for about an hour with 1/4-1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar. The acidity of the vinegar will help pull the minerals out of the bones and into the broth. Broth, especially if knuckle bones, chicken or pig’s feet are used, will also be really rich in gelatin, which helps with cartilage and soft tissue synthesis. A good quality gelatin supplement from grassfed cows can also be used. I have been using the product from Great Lakes, but I also just ordered the Vital Proteins Beef Gelatin and Collagen Peptides products for my husband and I. (So stay tuned and you may see a future post from me about my experience with the Vital Proteins products.) Another great thing about broth is that your system might not tolerate a whole lot of food after surgery. Broth is easy to get (and keep) down while providing infinitely more nutrition than sugar-laden ‘juices’ and saltine-type crackers with almost no nutrition whatsoever.
4. PROBIOTICS. You will have to take some amount of antibiotics after your surgery to reduce the risk of a post-op infection. Unfortunately, this can wreck havoc on your gut microbiome and lead to imbalances in your gut bacteria that may lead to the overgrowth of opportunistic parasites and a slow erosion of your health. Make sure to discuss this with your pharmacist and physician first, but start a course of probiotics as soon as you can. Either while you’re on the antibiotics if cleared to do so, or as soon as you finish them. Look for a good probiotic supplement that has a wide range of types of bacteria and yeasts in it and at least 30-50 million CFU in a dose.
5. MANAGE STRESS. Repairing from surgery is major stress on the body, a good and necessary one, but still a stress. Unfortunately, too much stress can cause the adrenal glands to output too much of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol has several functions, but one of the things it does is suppress the immune system. Since it is the immune system that is helping us heal and repair after surgery, this is generally not ideal (unless we are talking about organ transplant surgery.) Do what you can to slow down and take it easy on yourself as you recover. My beach vacation after surgery was not just about Vitamin D, but decreasing stress as well (I’m generally not a lay on the beach and no nothing for my vacation kind of gal- I usually prefer to use that time to scale a mountain side somewhere). Take it easy when you first go back to the gym. Don’t expect to do a lot of high intensity work. Plan to walk, do yoga, tai chi or other gentler forms of exercise. Breathe, meditate, or just lay in the sunshine and take a mental break. Delegate tasks to those offering to help and take as much time off from work as you can afford.
Most importantly, take the time to be really nice to your body. Feed it good quality food, with lots of nutrient-dense, colorful fruits and vegetables. Use the time to hit a “reset” button on your system and do as much as you can to invest in getting as healthy as possible.