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A Patient's Guide to Lung Surgery

Resuming Activities and Exercise After Lung Surgery

Senior woman smiling.

Housework

It is OK to perform light housekeeping chores such as cooking and washing dishes. Avoid strenuous activities like vacuuming and yard work for 1-2 weeks. Remember not to overdo it!

Lifting and Reaching

It is good to move or exercise the arm on the side that surgery was performed on to prevent further stiffness of your muscles. It is best to avoid lifting heavy objects heavier than 10 pounds such as small children, pets, groceries, and laundry baskets for the first week after surgery. (Example: a gallon of milk weighs about 8 pounds).

Physical Activities

You may do light, quick activities where your arms are above your shoulders, such as brushing your hair. But do not do any activities where your arms are above shoulder level for a long time, such as washing a window or dusting a high shelf. Do not do any activity that causes pain or pulling across your chest.

To get the most out of your day, plan to do the most important activities early. Don't try to do everything at once, making sure that you get plenty of rest in between activities. Schedule unfinished activities for another day.

Climbing Stairs and Steps

Unless restricted by your doctor, it's okay for you to climb stairs and steps. Because you may be off-balanced after surgery, be careful and hold the handrail when walking up and down stairs. If you need to, stop and rest before you finish walking up or down a full flight. Try not to use the stairs immediately after surgery, and try to plan your activities so that you use the stairs only when necessary.

Fatigue

Fatigue is probably the number one patient complaint following surgery. Fatigue results from an extended lack of sleep while in the hospital, energy used by your body to heal its wounds and in fighting off pain. To combat fatigue, listen to what your body is telling you. Space your activities to allow for rest periods. Take plenty of naps, walk regularly, eat well, and use your pain medication as needed. It's important that you rest and get a good night's sleep. Even if it's early in the night, if you feel tired, go to bed.

Driving and Riding in a Car

You should not drive for the first two weeks from the date of your discharge or while you are still taking narcotic pain pills. During this time your reaction time may be dulled. You may be a passenger in a car at any time. Make sure to wear your seat belt.

Sex

You may resume sexual activity after your surgery. In the first few weeks after surgery, however, you may find that pain along your incision may limit your activity to a certain extent. Just remember that during the first eight weeks after surgery, any activity or position that causes pain or pulling across your chest, such as bearing weight on your arms, must be avoided.

Returning to Work

Returning to work depends upon the type of work you do and your energy level. It usually takes 4-6 weeks before most patients feel they have returned to their full energy level. The decision to return to work should be made jointly between you and your surgeon. You may want to consider working half days at first.

Traveling

Delay vacations or extended trips away from home for approximately 2-3 weeks, or until after the first post operative visit with your surgeon. Avoid air travel for two weeks from the date of your discharge. This restriction is designed to prevent you from being too far away from your surgeon should a problem arise.

When to Call Your Physician

  1. Fever > 101 degrees Fahrenheit or > 38.5 degrees Centigrade.
  2. Extreme fatigue
  3. Difficulty breathing
  4. Dizziness or fainting
  5. Palpitations or fast, irregular heart beat
  6. Increased redness, tenderness or drainage of any surgical incision
  7. Unrelieved nausea or vomiting
  8. Excessive wound drainage
  9. Persistent cough

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