Should I lay in bed after surgery?

Recovering from surgery often requires a period of rest and reduced activity to allow your body to heal. However, extended periods of bed rest can also lead to complications. Here is some advice on getting the right balance of rest versus mobility after surgery.

Quick Answers

  • Some bed rest is recommended after most surgeries to allow incisions to start healing and reduce strain on the body.
  • Complete bed rest used to be prescribed, but is now discouraged as it can lead to increased risks like blood clots, pneumonia, muscle loss, and joint stiffness.
  • Today, doctors recommend getting out of bed and gently moving around as soon as possible after surgery. Start slowly and increase activity gradually.
  • The amount of bed rest needed depends on the type of surgery. Minor procedures may only require a day while more invasive surgeries need 1-2 weeks of extra rest.
  • Listen to your body and rest when you feel tired. But also get up and walk around for 5-15 minutes every 1-2 hours when awake.
  • Planning for extra help at home is recommended for at least the first 1-2 weeks after surgery to assist with mobility.

How Long Should I Rest in Bed After Surgery?

The duration of bed rest recommended after surgery will depend on the type and extent of the procedure performed. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Minor surgeries like hernia repair or knee arthroscopy: Up to 24 hours of bed rest is usually recommended.
  • Outpatient procedures: Rest for the remainder of the day after discharged. Can resume light activity the next day.
  • Invasive surgeries like hysterectomy or open abdominal surgery: 1-3 days of bed rest.
  • Major surgeries like spinal fusion or joint replacement: Up to 5-7 days of bed rest.
  • Open heart or chest surgery: At least 2 weeks of extra precautions.

However, remaining completely immobilized even for these timeframes is usually not advised anymore. Doctors now prefer patients start some gentle activity much sooner after surgery.

Benefits of Some Bed Rest After Surgery

Lying down and taking it easy after surgery does have benefits for recovery. Some reasons your doctor may recommend a period of bed rest include:

  • Allows surgical incisions to start healing: Staying in bed prevents strain on new incisions and internal stitches from gravity or movement which could disrupt the healing process.
  • Reduces risk of bleeding: Complete bed rest was once thought to reduce bleeding risks from surgical sites or internal bleeding by minimizing increases in blood pressure.
  • Lessens pain: Changing positions, walking, and other movements can increase pain from surgical sites or internal healing. Bed rest allows wounds to start repairing with less disruption.
  • Prevents falls or injuries: Medications given during surgery like anesthesia or pain pills can make patients unsteady on their feet. Staying in bed while their effects wear off prevents falls.
  • Conserves energy: The stress of surgery causes fatigue. Resting in bed allows the body to direct more energy towards healing rather than activity.

Risks of Prolonged Bed Rest After Surgery

However, while short periods of bed rest can support healing, remaining immobilized for too long can also impede recovery and lead to complications. Potential problems from prolonged bed rest include:

  • Pressure injuries: Developing from being in one position too long without shifting weight. These worsen with malnutrition.
  • Pneumonia: From decreased lung function and poor air flow while lying down for extended periods.
  • Blood clots: Lack of movement slows blood flow which can lead to dangerous clots in the legs or lungs.
  • Joint stiffness: Immobility causes tightening around joints which can then lose mobility and range of motion.
  • Muscle atrophy: Disuse of muscles while bedridden leads to debilitating loss of muscle mass and strength.
  • Bone loss: Long-term bed rest alters bone metabolism increasing risk of osteoporosis and fragility fractures.
  • Mental fog: Inactivity and social isolation impairs cognitive functioning.

Balancing Rest and Early Mobilization

Due to the risks above, surgery recovery now emphasizes avoiding prolonged bed rest and getting patients moving as soon as safely possible. But finding the right balance depends on the individual patient and procedure.

Here are some tips for getting adequate rest while also maintaining mobility:

  • Follow your doctor’s instructions but start some activity as soon as you are able. Even small movements help.
  • Sit up or dangle legs off the bed, march in place, do gentle range of motion exercises.
  • Progress activity slowly. Increase duration and intensity a little each day.
  • Get up and walk around for 5-15 minutes every 1-2 hours when awake. This prevents blood clots.
  • Change positions or do alternating leg lifts when confined to bed.
  • Use mobility aids if needed at first like walkers, canes, grab bars. Have help standing.
  • Listen to your body. Rest when feeling fatigued, but avoid long immobilization.

Talk to your doctor about the right balance for your specific surgery and condition. With their input, remain active while also allowing adequate recovery periods in bed.

How to Rest Comfortably After Surgery

Staying in bed for long periods can be uncomfortable. Here are some tips to help rest more easily after surgery:

  • Use lots of pillows to support incision areas and prevent strain.
  • Keep trash can, phone, water, snacks within reach so you don’t have to get up.
  • Place phone charger, tv remote, books, laptop handy for entertainment.
  • Adjust hospital bed height, raise head if able.
  • Keep room cool and shaded. Use blanket for chills.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing that doesn’t rub incisions.
  • Use ice packs or heating pads to lessen surgical pain.
  • Try guided relaxation or meditation recordings to relax.
  • Set reminders to change positions or do leg exercises.
  • Ask for help to the bathroom or shower until you are steadier.

How Long Should I Take Off Work After Surgery?

The recovery timeline and duration of time off needed after surgery depends on:

  • Type of procedure performed
  • Complexity and invasiveness of surgery
  • Physical demands of your job
  • Your overall health status and activity level

Here are some estimates for time off work after common surgical procedures:

Surgery Type Time Off Work
Outpatient/Minor (hernia, laparoscopic gallbladder, arthroscopic knee) 1 week
Hysterectomy 2-4 weeks
Open gallbladder removal 2-4 weeks
Appendectomy 2-3 weeks
Cesarean Section 4-6 weeks
Spinal fusion 2-3 months
Joint replacement (hip, knee) 4-6 weeks
Heart surgery (bypass, valve) 2-3 months

Your individual recovery timeline may be longer depending on your job duties, complications, and how you heal. Discuss with your surgeon when you can expect to return to work and any job modifications needed.

How Can I Recover Faster After Surgery?

These tips may help speed up your post-operative recovery:

  • Follow activity instructions: Rest enough but also start moving as soon as your doctor recommends.
  • Eat a balanced diet: Get adequate protein and nutrients to support healing. Stay hydrated.
  • Do light exercise: Gradually increase gentle range of motion and walking to improve conditioning.
  • Treat pain: Take medications as directed to keep pain controlled.
  • Utilize any physical therapy: This will improve mobility and strength.
  • Get plenty of sleep: Sleep helps the body repair itself.
  • Reduce stress: Practice relaxation skills to lower stress which slows healing.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking impairs circulation needed for surgical recovery.
  • Keep follow-up appointments: Your care team can monitor progress and address any issues.

Let your doctor know if recovery seems slower than expected. Report any concerning symptoms like fevers, chills, discharge, or unusual pain which could require additional interventions to treat.


Some bed rest is needed initially after surgery to allow the body to start recovering. However, complete immobilization for more than a day or two can impede the healing process. Current guidelines advise getting patients moving again soon after surgery with gradual increases in gentle activity. Finding the right balance of rest and mobility with the input of your medical team is key to avoiding complications during recuperation.

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