What should you avoid after surgery?

Recovering from surgery is a delicate process that requires care and caution. While your body heals, it is important to avoid certain activities and foods that could disrupt the healing process or lead to complications. Here are some of the main things you should avoid after surgery and why.

Avoid strenuous activity

After any surgery, your body needs time to heal and recover. Jumping back into strenuous physical activity too soon can stress your wounds and cause damage. Here are some types of strenuous activities you should avoid:

  • Heavy lifting – Don’t lift anything over 5-10 pounds. The strain could pop stitches or staples.
  • High-impact exercise – Avoid things like running, jumping, sports, aerobics classes. Start with short gentle walks.
  • Core exercises – Skip sit-ups, pilates, yoga. These put pressure on your core and incisions.

Check with your surgeon when you can start doing strenuous exercise again. For major surgery, this may take up to 6-8 weeks. Take it slow and listen to your body.

Avoid getting incisions wet

Keeping your incisions dry while they heal is extremely important after surgery. Getting the wounds wet could lead to infection. Here are some precautions:

  • No baths, hot tubs, swimming – You may need to stick to sponge baths for a week or two.
  • Protect incisions in the shower – Use plastic wrap or a special protective bandage.
  • Avoid harsh scrubbing – Gently clean around the area but don’t scrub the incisions.

Ask your surgeon when you can resume showers or baths as usual. Wait for your incisions to fully close so water cannot enter the wounds.

Avoid driving

It’s best not to drive for at least 1-2 weeks after surgery, or until your surgeon gives the go-ahead. Here’s why:

  • Anesthesia effects – You may feel drowsy or impaired for a few days after general anesthesia.
  • Pain medication side effects – Opioid pain meds can cause dizziness and altered thinking.
  • Restricted mobility – You don’t want to suddenly need to brake or turn the wheel but find it painful.

Have someone else drive you around as you recover. Don’t resume driving until you are off narcotic pain meds and can move freely without pain.

Avoid certain foods and drinks

What you consume can have a big impact on your recovery after surgery. Some foods and drinks can irritate the digestive tract, cause gas or constipation, or impact medications. Avoid:

  • Alcohol – Irritates the stomach and interacts with medications.
  • Carbonated drinks – Can cause gas pain or bloating.
  • Dairy products – Can be difficult to digest after anesthesia.
  • Raw fruits/veggies – Hard to digest, can cause excessive gas.
  • Greasy, fried foods – Upset stomach, diarrhea, nausea.
  • Spicy foods – Can irritate healing incisions or digestive tract.

Stick to bland foods like broth, oatmeal, applesauce, toast, eggs, etc. Introduce fiber slowly and drink lots of water.

Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke

Smoking severely impacts surgical healing and recovery. The chemicals in smoke can constrict blood vessels, cutting off oxygen and nutrients that help wounds heal. Smoking can:

  • Increase risk of post-op infection
  • Delay healing time
  • Increase scarring
  • Raise chances of complications after surgery

Second-hand smoke can have similar effects. Stay away from smokers during the recovery period. If you smoke yourself, make every effort to quit before your surgery date.

Avoid certain medications

Some medications can interfere with postoperative healing or react with anesthesia and other surgical drugs. Talk to your surgeon about any medications or supplements you take regularly.

Drugs that are often discontinued before and after surgery include:

  • Aspirin – Increases bleeding risk.
  • Ibuprofen – May cause bleeding.
  • Certain supplements – Vitamin E, fish oil, garlic can thin blood.
  • Birth control pills – Effects altered by anesthesia.

Follow all instructions from your surgeon about stopping or adjusting your normal meds before surgery.

Avoid constipation

Anesthesia and pain medication can really slow down your digestive system and make constipation a common issue after surgery. To avoid becoming constipated:

  • Drink lots of water every day.
  • Eat high-fiber foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains.
  • Walk and move around periodically.
  • Ask your surgeon about using a stool softener or laxative if needed.

Don’t strain or push when using the bathroom. Report any signs of constipation to your doctor promptly.

Avoid sitting for too long

While rest and relaxation are important after surgery, avoid sitting idle for too many hours at a time. Getting up and moving periodically is key. Here’s why:

  • Prevents blood clots – Inactivity allows clots to form in the legs.
  • Improves circulation – Light movement boosts blood flow throughout your body.
  • Prevents stiff joints – Immobility can cause joints to become stiff and tender.
  • Improves recovery – Gentle activity helps you regain strength and recover faster.

Take a short 5-10 minute walk every few hours. Perform simple leg exercises like ankle circles too. Gradually increase movement each day.

Avoid direct sunlight on incisions

Letting sun shine right on fresh surgical incisions can hinder healing. The ultraviolet rays may damage the skin and worsen scarring. To protect them:

  • Cover incisions with clothing or protective bandages if going outside.
  • Use a high SPF sunscreen on surrounding skin.
  • Stay in the shade as much as possible.

Once incisions fully close up, you can gradually expose them to sun again. Keep using sunscreen and cover them when possible for a year.

Avoid infection

An infection after surgery can set back your recovery. To prevent infection:

  • Take antibiotics as prescribed by your surgeon.
  • Keep incisions clean and change dressings regularly.
  • Watch for signs of infection like redness, swelling, warmth, pus-like drainage.
  • Avoid touching or scratching wounds.
  • Don’t submerge incisions in water until approved.

Notify your doctor right away if you notice any infection signs. Left untreated, infections can become serious very quickly.

Avoid pain medication side effects

The opioid pain medications often prescribed after surgery can cause issues like constipation, nausea, and fatigue. To minimize side effects:

  • Stay hydrated and eat something with each dose.
  • Take stool softeners or laxatives if constipated.
  • Use anti-nausea medication if you have persistent nausea.
  • Ask your doctor about non-opioid pain reliever options.
  • Wean off opioids as soon as pain is tolerable.

Report any severe or concerning medication side effects to your surgeon right away so alternatives can be found.

Avoid falls and injuries

Still woozy from anesthesia, hampered by pain meds, and limited in mobility – falling is a real risk after surgery. To avoid tumbles and other injuries:

  • Have someone with you at home at first.
  • Take it very slow when getting out of bed.
  • Use railings on stairs, in showers, by toilets.
  • Arrange furniture so you have clear paths.
  • Keep floors clutter-free.
  • Use chairs with arms when up and about.

Falls can cause serious harm and impede recovery. Call for help rather than struggle alone. Regain strength gradually.

Avoid vigorous sex

Sexual activity should be off the table for at least 2-4 weeks after surgery to allow proper healing. Reasons to wait include:

  • Incisions are still healing – Vigorous sex could disrupt them.
  • Risk of infection – Insertion could introduce bacteria.
  • Pain or discomfort – Sex may be physically taxing.
  • Medication side effects – Pain meds lower libido and arousal.

Engage in other intimate activities like kissing, caressing. When you resume sex after surgery, go slow and stop if you feel pain or discomfort.

Avoid stressful situations

High stress is a hindrance to healing after surgery. To optimize recovery:

  • Ask loved ones for practical support so you don’t get overwhelmed.
  • Make arrangements for help with childcare, pets, bills as needed.
  • Let go of expectations that you’ll bounce back quickly.
  • Say no to non-essential duties and events.
  • Make time to rest and do activities you find relaxing.

Don’t take on big projects or commitments right after surgery. Give yourself adequate time and space to recover before adding stressors back.

Avoid taxing your eyes

If your surgery was on your eye(s) or surrounding bones, it’s important to give your eyes ample rest while recovering. To avoid overtaxing them:

  • Limit screen time – TV, computer, phones, tablets.
  • Take frequent breaks if you must look at screens.
  • Avoid reading books, magazines.
  • Wear sunglasses outside to reduce sunlight glare.
  • Don’t drive until approved by your surgeon.

Your doctor may recommend using lubricating eye drops frequently too. Don’t rub or touch your eyes. Report any worrisome vision changes promptly.

Avoid dental work

It’s best to avoid any non-emergency dental work for at least a few weeks after surgery. Here’s why:

  • Risk of infection – Dental procedures can allow bacteria into the bloodstream.
  • Bleeding concerns – Dental work may cause bleeding that’s hard to stop after surgery.
  • Medication interactions – Antibiotics may interact with anesthesia drugs still in your system.

Talk to both your surgeon and dentist before scheduling any fillings, cleanings, extractions, etc. after surgery. They’ll help decide when it’s safe again.

Avoid blowing your nose

If your surgery was on your nose or sinuses, the pressure from blowing your nose could disturb healing tissues. Instead, gently clean and wipe your nose. Other tips:

  • Use saline nasal sprays to keep your nose moist.
  • Try a humidifier to prevent congestion.
  • If you must sneeze, sneeze with your mouth open to reduce pressure.
  • If nose blowing is unavoidable, do it very gently.

Avoid anything that stimulates forceful sneezing too like spicy food. Don’t pick your nose – let it heal safely and naturally.

Avoid travel

It’s best not to travel far from home soon after having surgery. Traveling can:

  • Increase risk of blood clots from immobility.
  • Make managing pain, drainage tubes difficult.
  • Cause issues if you need urgent medical care.
  • Expose you to more germs, raising infection risk.

Wait until your surgeon confirms you are stable enough to handle the physically taxing aspects of travel. Have someone accompany you on longer trips during the recovery period.

Avoid heavy housework

In the first weeks after surgery, avoid strenuous house cleaning and chores. Things like:

  • Scrubbing floors, bathrooms
  • Vacuuming, sweeping
  • Laundry – washing, carrying, folding
  • Yardwork – raking, digging, mowing
  • Lifting pets, small children

Get household help or assign lighter tasks like dusting, organizing, folding laundry. Don’t overexert yourself – relax and recover.

Avoid clothing that irritates incisions

While healing, wear loose, comfortable clothing that won’t rub or press on surgical wounds. Avoid:

  • Tight pants, elastic waists
  • Constricting bras, belts
  • Coarse fabrics like wool against incisions
  • Areas with buttons, snaps, zippers, sequins

Wear soft, breathable fabrics like cotton close to incisions. Sports bras or camisoles may offer comfortable support without irritation.

Avoid crowds and sick people

Your immune system is compromised after surgery, so avoiding germs is important. Reduce infection risk by:

  • Avoiding crowds and large gatherings
  • Asking sick friends/family to visit later
  • Wearing a mask in public if risk of illness is high
  • Washing hands frequently
  • Disinfecting common surfaces in your home

Exposure to contagious illnesses like flu or COVID can seriously jeopardize your recovery. Be extra diligent about infection precautions.


Recovering from surgery requires care and precaution. Avoid activities that could damage healing tissues or put your health at risk. Give your body adequate rest and nutrition to repair itself. Follow all instructions from your surgical team closely. Report any concerning symptoms promptly. With time and patience, you’ll be back to your old self again.

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