“Doc, what is the recovery time after bariatric surgery?” Sounds like a simple question, but recovery time often has different meanings to different people. Some people have limited sick days at work, while others need to plan for child care issues. One thing that is the same for all of is: We all have busy lives and most people simply cannot afford to be bedridden for extended periods of time.  So let’s take a closer look at the different aspects of recovery after gastric bypass, gastric sleeve and LAP-BAND surgery.

Pain After Surgery

When asking about recovery time, some people are actually asking how much pain they will have after bariatric surgery. Pain is difficult to predict as each person has a different threshold.  For the most part, weight loss surgery pain comes from two sources: the incisions on the skin and a deeper pain that most patients associate with “gas.”

All bariatric procedures are performed laparoscopically, so the incisions are very small. The largest is only about an inch. Smaller incisions usually mean less pain. Most patients describe the pain as feeling like they’ve done a rigorous abdominal workout (like crunches) and report the pain being gone within three or four days after surgery.  Those who experience gas pain define a wider range in the duration of symptoms; however, all stress that walking is the key to relief.

Return to work and other activities

Another aspect of recovery time has to do with when someone can return to normal daily activities such as driving, work and exercise.  Everyone leads such different lives that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.  The basic rule after any abdominal surgery is to wait at least 3–4 weeks before doing any heavy lifting (over 10 lbs.) or rigorous activity in order to reduce the risk of incisional hernias.  This is the average timeframe for healing of the muscle layers to occur.

Driving should be avoided in the early postoperative period, especially if prescription pain medication is still in use.  After that time, driving should be safe, but beware the unexpected.  Sudden stops can cause you to tense up the abdominal muscles and increase the risk for hernias.

Returning to work is going to vary according to what type of work is done.  For less rigorous jobs such as ones where you are seated at a desk most of the day, a patient can return to work as soon as he or she is ready.  Some patients say they are back at work only three days after surgery! Other jobs may be more physically rigorous.  If there is no such thing as light duty where you work, then it best to wait the full four weeks before returning.

Even after your body heals and you are ready to return to life as normal, weight loss surgery patients must remember that life “as it was” is a thing of the past. You will need to develop a new relationship with food and also with the people in your life who may still remember the old you – the one who didn’t have a problem slicing the cake at the office birthday celebrations. Sometimes, even when you are ready to return to work physically, mentally you may need time to adjust to a new way of eating and socializing. If possible, giving yourself as much time as you need to get into a routine with your diet and to think about how you will handle food-related social situations.

Before you know it, you will be recovered from weight loss surgery and ready to take on the world. The only difference is you have taken a huge step to lead a healthier life.

About Glenn Forrester, MD, FACS

Baraitric Surgeon, New Jersey Bariatric Center | Glenn Forrester, MD, FACS, is a bariatric and general surgeon with New Jersey Bariatric Center, a medical & surgical weight loss center with offices in Springfield, Somerville, Hoboken, East Brunswick and Hackettstown New Jersey. New Jersey Bariatric Center helps patients achieve long-term weight loss success through the most advanced bariatric surgery procedures, including gastric sleeve and gastric bypass procedures. New Jersey Bariatric Center’s approach to patient care has resulted in zero mortalities and a complication rate that is lower than the national average.

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