Healing Inside and Out: What Happens to your Body after Surgery

Many people go into surgery with a vague idea of how much time they need to allow for recovery. The doctor sets guidelines on when you can drive, lift heavy items, and go back to work. Nobody really goes into detail with patients when their skin and cells are concerned. Patients may have very little understanding what is going on under their bandages and inside their bodies. There is a reason you are confined to the couch for a week or two after surgery. Your body has a big job to do, both inside and out.


There are many factors to consider when it comes to how fast and efficiently you heal. There are even genetic factors that play into the process. Some people are just naturally fast healers. You also cannot do much about your age. Younger people, of course, heal faster than elderly patients. You can help yourself along by increasing your overall health during recovery. Pay close attention to your hygiene and diet. Try to keep your wound extremely clean to avoid an infection. An infection can severely lengthen recovery time. Healthy foods and plenty of rest help your body replenish itself daily.


Your post-operative appointment is usually set around two weeks after the date of the surgery. Surprisingly, you should see significant healing to the incision site in about six days. Your body starts to fight back before you even leave the hospital. The initiation of an incision by the doctor alerts your body to protect itself. Blood starts clotting immediately to help close the site. As with any skin alteration, a scab soon forms. Your immune system starts making an effort to fight infection at the site, as well.

At some point during the first couple of days, there is going to be a pink or red hue around the surgical site. There may also be some swelling and soreness. Your body also secretes a clear fluid around the injured area that is meant to clean out the wound. So what you have so far is a site that resists touch and is self-cleaning. Nutrients and oxygen from your blood are then delivered to the wound are by newly opened blood vessels. Your white blood cells get to work fighting germs and healing the open areas.

The Next Phase

At this point the possibility of infection is lowered. The blood vessels that were broken during the surgery, and that opened up to deliver nutrients, begin the repair process. At the same time, new tissue begins to grow. Collagen plays a big part in the reconstruction of tissue. It is produced in the white blood cells. Strong, white fibers make cross links with more of the collagen. This is the foundation of your new tissue. The next part is called granulation tissue. This is also packed full of collagen and freshly grown capillaries. This begins to fill in the incision site. You can see that your wound is getting smaller from the outside perimeter of the wound first. New skin forms over the granulated tissue. If your scab falls off early, expect to see some pink, sensitive skin. The scar soon forms with what is left of the edges that are drawn together.


There is a lot going on inside your body after surgery, as well. Surgery around the abdominal area can include the repair of muscle. Hernia surgeries, cesarean sections, and tummy tucks leave patients unable to life over 15 pounds for about six weeks.  At the six week mark, your muscles should be at about 90 percent healed. At this point you are able to lift a little more weight. Many parents are thrilled at this point, as it means they can carry their toddlers or babies around again. About two weeks in to surgery, muscles have reached about a 70 percent healing rate. The healing process slows down a bit after the initial healing. The following weeks or months after week six involves remodeling of scar tissue by replacement with collagen that remains permanently. This can be a slow process, yet your body remains at a high performance capacity.

When to Call the Doctor

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a wound that is healing properly, and one that is infected. There are so many changes in the color and texture of a wound that it can keep you on high alert every time you look at it. The clear fluid that is excreted to clean the wound may be mistaken for an infection. As long as it stays clear, everything should be fine. If you notice a green, cloudy, or yellow discharge, however, an infection may be present.

Redness around the incision site may be present for up to six months. Your body works for months to completely repair the area. Redness, however, should be limited to the perimeter of the incision site. If you notice red splotches or webbed patterns beyond the site, an infection may be pending.

The incision site is going to be somewhat bumpy and swollen. A scar is formed when the body pulls skin in from around the area to close the wound. This can cause an uneven area. If you notice swelling in your lymph nodes near the surgical site, you should call the doctor. The lymph nodes respond when they are fighting an infection. You can check your lymph nodes before surgery so that you know what they feel like when you are healthy. This can help you to easily notice any subtle changes later on.

Surgery recovery is a long process when you look at the last small percentage of healing. Your body kicks in to high gear, however, the first few weeks. This is when you need to be the most careful about cleanliness, lifting items, and driving. Regular follow up care can help you to better understand how your body is recovering and what you limitations are as you go along. Everyone heals a little differently, so it is important to listen to your body when you do not feel well or notice an odd appearance of the surgery site.

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