Recovering from a pressure wound and flap surgery does not always end when the wound heals or the prescribed duration of bedrest expires. In my last post, I discussed the importance of mental health during the recovery process. While maintaining mental health is a critical component of recovery following bedrest, regaining and improving one’s physical health becomes a challenge that is different from what many experience before such a serious and life-altering operation.
Being confined to bed for an extended period of time has many negative effects on the body. Looking back, many of the consequences seem logical and inevitable but they do not seem so obvious as an individual is going through their own experience. Although not everybody will have the same problems, my hope is that by sharing what I went through, others will be able to learn and prepare for what may come.
The first noticeable result of months of bedrest was vertigo. Laying in the same two positions for such a long time can obviously throw off one’s equilibrium. For the first week or so of getting out of bed and doing the recommended sitting protocol, I experienced several bouts of debilitating vertigo. The room would appear to be spinning around me, while at the same time I would have double vision. This complicated my recovery as there would be times that I could not sit in my wheelchair for the prescribed length of time and had to return to bed. However, as time went on and I was able to tolerate longer periods of sitting, the dizziness subsided and thankfully never returned.
In addition to vertigo, my prolonged inactivity had several negative impacts on my musculoskeletal system. Unsurprisingly, being stuck in bed resulted in tightening of muscles, tendons, and ligaments leading to decreased flexibility. My ankles suffered the most significant setback as they became very tight and lost range of motion. In the years since my surgery, despite all of the standing and stretching, the range of motion has been slow to return. In hindsight, I wish I would have thought of a way to prevent or mitigate this. The loss of flexibility was not limited to my ankles. My hamstrings also became extremely tight, especially on my right side where the surgery was performed. Getting into bed was problematic for several months post surgery because the tightness along with the extensive scarring caused mild dysreflexia when I would lay down and stretch out. Unlike my ankles, my hamstrings responded well to stretching and eventually returned to normal. Muscle atrophy in my functioning muscles was also a big issue. Having a PICC line in my right arm prevented me from doing much with it. At the same time, I had to lay on my left side which rendered it practically useless. It took several months to recover the strength I had worked so hard to gain. The most unexpected consequence I endured was the loss of bone density in my right hip and femur. Although my doctor and I cannot definitively prove it, we hypothesized that the long duration of bearing zero weight on my right side resulted in bone loss. The bone loss was successfully treated with a regimen of Prolia injections, standing, and electric stimulation.
The physical challenges that an individual can go through while recovering from a period of immobility are difficult and often impossible to manage. During bedrest, it is important to do whatever is possible to maintain strength and flexibility. It is necessary to follow doctor’s orders but some suggestions include lifting weights or using resistance bands without jeopardizing the healing area of the body and stretching uncompromised muscles. Some things will be impossible because of weight bearing and movement restrictions but even the simplest things can make a huge difference. Furthermore, eating a healthy diet will help to prevent weight gain and promote healing. Combining any safe physical activity with a focus on mental wellness while bedridden will go a long way to promote a positive outcome.
Written by Mike Franz
Mike is a C6 quad from Michigan who has been injured 16+ years.