How Soon Can I Start Exercising After Brain Surgery?

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Technology has made brain surgery a somewhat routine operation. However, neurosurgery places you at risk for a range of medical complications, according to an October 2011 article in the “Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.” Regular exercise can help prevent these problems. It remains unclear when to begin exercising after surgery, but scientists have developed animal models to address the question. Talk to your doctor before using exercise to facilitate your recovery from brain surgery.

Stabilization Period -- No Exercise

Brain surgery could have an adverse effect on your circulation. Monitoring vital signs can indicate restrictions in blood flow. Exercise cannot begin until changes in blood pressure and oxygen saturation stabilize. An April 2008 report in the “Journal of Trauma” showed that other markers provide important data as well. Such measures include heart rate variability, pulse pressure and tissue oxygenation. All of these measures must return to pre-surgery levels before you can start your physical rehabilitation.

One Day Later -- Exercise Therapy

Exercise therapy can begin once your vital signs have stabilized. Such therapy often starts one day after the operation. Each person has a different response to brain surgery, so some cases may require additional time. A February 2011 report in “Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion” tested the effect of acupuncture and exercise on recovery rate. The exercise portion of the treatment featured massage and stretching. Unconscious patients received the combination within 24 hours of neurosurgery. More than 80 percent of treated subjects regained consciousness. Only 46 percent of the untreated subjects regained consciousness and treated patients had a lower rate of mortality and disability.

One Month Later -- Voluntary Exercise

You must wait several weeks before starting voluntary exercise or returning to sporting events. An experiment described in the July 2007 issue of the “Journal of Neurotrauma” showed that brain-damaged rats needed a month to completely recover. The mechanisms responsible for this finding remain unclear. A chemical known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor appears to play an important role. Exercise initiated within a few days of neurotrauma -- such as that experienced during brain surgery -- had no effect on this substance, according to 2004 report in “Neuroscience.” In contrast, exercising two weeks later increased brain-derived neurotropic factor.

Brain Rehabilitation and Protection

Doctors attempt to minimize the damage done to brain tissue during surgery, but the trauma of surgery permanently changes your brain. Principles of neural plasticity allows you to reorganize your brain during the healing process, according to a September 2011 paper in the “Journal of Communication Disorders.” These principles show that acquiring new skills and learning new habits help heal your brain. Exercise can facilitate this process. A review in the December 2005 issue of “Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair” noted that exercising during recovery from brain injury enhanced tissue repair. It also increased learning and memory. These exercise-induced changes do more than just rebuild your neural tissue. They protect your brain from future injury, and they fight the aging process.