Navigating your road to recovery after colorectal surgery

Discover what to expect after colorectal surgery, from recovery to common side effects. Learn how to navigate your road to recovery with confidence.


Discover what to expect after colorectal surgery, from recovery processes to common side effects. Learn how to navigate your road to recovery with confidence.



By Dr. John J. Choi, General Surgery, Colon and Rectal Surgery, Nuvance Health


Understanding what to expect after colorectal surgery is crucial for a successful recovery. Whether you're undergoing surgery for colorectal cancer, diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease, rectal prolapse, colon or rectal cancer to severe hemorrhoids, knowing what lies ahead can help you prepare mentally and physically for the journey ahead. In this guide, we'll explore the various aspects of colorectal surgery recovery and provide tips for a smoother healing process.


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Understanding colorectal surgery

Colorectal surgery is a specialized procedure aimed at treating conditions affecting the colon, rectum and anus. It involves the removal or repair of diseased or damaged parts of the digestive tract, with the ultimate goal of restoring optimal digestive function.


There are several types of colorectal surgery, each tailored to address specific issues. Colectomy, for example, involves the partial or complete removal of the colon, while proctectomy focuses on removing the rectum. Other procedures, such as colostomy and ileostomy, create a new pathway for waste to exit the body when the normal route is compromised or healing. Most of the stomas or new pathways are temporary but some can be permanent.


Related content: What you need to know about colorectal cancer screening, prevention and risk


Nuvance Health has nationally accredited cancer hospitals that specialize in colorectal cancer care with a multidisciplinary team. Nuvance Health also offers minimally invasive surgery, with laparoscopic or robotic approaches available. Some of our hospitals are robotic centers of excellence. If you are a candidate, a minimally invasive approach can offer a quicker recovery and less post-operative pain. Please speak to your surgeon for more information. Learn more about colorectal surgery at Nuvance Health.


The recovery process after colorectal surgery


Postoperative care and pain management are paramount in the recovery process. Your doctor will closely monitor your condition and provide necessary care. They will also offer guidance on wound care, medication management and any dietary restrictions you may need to follow.


Related content: Exercise and nutrition facts about colorectal cancer risk

  • Pain management is a crucial aspect of recovery. Your doctor will prescribe appropriate pain medications and help you manage any discomfort you may experience. Some patients may experience soreness, tightness or muscle aches around their incisions, which is normal. We optimize pain management by using different types of medications and not only narcotics. It's important to communicate openly with your doctor about your pain levels to ensure you receive adequate relief. 
  • Physical activity and mobility are key components of recovery. While rest is essential, gentle movement and mobility exercises are encouraged to prevent complications such as blood clots. You may be asked to take medications to prevent blood clots in some cases. Your doctor will provide guidance on when and how to increase your activity levels safely.


Possible side effects and complications from colorectal surgery


After surgery, you may experience fatigue, nausea, constipation, bloating and changes in bowel movements. These symptoms should improve over time, but it's important to communicate any concerns with your doctor.


Learn more about colorectal cancer at the Nuvance Health Cancer Institute.


Although complications after colorectal surgery are rare, they can include infections, bleeding or  surgical site complications. It's important to be aware of the signs of complications and seek medical attention if you experience any concerning symptoms.


Life after surgery


Adjusting to changes in bowel function is common after colorectal surgery. Your bowel habits may change, but these changes should improve as your body heals. If you have concerns about your bowel function, don't hesitate to discuss them with your doctor.

  • Dietary considerations are also important during recovery. Your doctor will provide guidance on your diet, starting with liquids or soft foods and gradually reintroducing solid foods as tolerated. Most will be able to go home on regular food. 
  • Emotional and psychological support is crucial during the recovery process. It's normal to experience a range of emotions, including anxiety, fear and sadness. Seeking support from friends, family or a mental health professional can help you cope with these feelings.


Learn more about behavioral health at Nuvance Health


At Nuvance Health, we understand the challenges you may face during your recovery from colorectal surgery. Our team of doctors are dedicated to providing comprehensive care and support every step of the way. From personalized treatment plans to emotional and psychological support, we're here to help you navigate your recovery journey with confidence and ease.


The bottom line: Knowing what to expect after colorectal surgery can help you prepare for the road ahead and ensure a smoother recovery process. By staying informed, following your doctor’s guidance and seeking support when needed, you can take control of your recovery and get back to feeling your best self.