A liver resection is a major surgical procedure, one that's not undertaken lightly. In most cases, surgery is performed to remove tumors from the liver, though a healthy person can donate a portion of his own liver to a family member or other close match who's suffering liver failure. As with any other major surgery, light exercise helps speed post-operative recovery.
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Liver resection consists of surgically removing the diseased portion of your liver. Depending on the illness involved, less-invasive therapies might be tried first, such as chemotherapy or radiation, if cancer is involved. If those therapies fail, surgeons will take out up to 75 percent of the liver in an effort to locate and remove the tumors or diseased areas. This is possible because the liver, alone among the body's major organs, is capable of regenerating itself in just a few weeks as long as the remaining tissue is healthy.
Incision vs. Laparoscopy
Because the liver is a large organ, the incision used for a conventional resection also is very large, up to 30 inches in length. The length of the incision is a significant factor in recovery time, creating a large quantity of scar tissue and limiting the patient's mobility for several weeks after the operation. Some liver resections can be performed by laparoscopic surgery, using small instruments and cameras inserted through a tiny incision. This may not be practical if a large portion of the liver is to be removed or the surgeon wishes to physically examine the whole liver.
Recovery time from a resection with a conventional incision to the point that you can resume most normal activities typically is six weeks. During the recovery period, restrict your exercise to walking and other low-impact activities. The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard recommends not lifting weights above 5 pounds for the first four to six weeks. If your doctor is satisfied with your progress, you might be able to undertake some light abdominal exercise at that time. Usually this will consist of bending and stretching exercises to restore mobility to the area surrounding the incision.
After Six Weeks
Although you will be able to resume most normal activities after approximately six weeks, it's important to remember that every recovery is different, and you'll need to consult your doctor before undertaking any intensive abdominal exercises. Don't assume you'll be able to start doing crunches again precisely at the six-week mark. You also need to adapt your lifestyle in other ways, as your liver regenerates. Take special care to remain properly hydrated at all times, which will speed your recovery and minimize post-operative constipation. Eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables and avoid alcohol during your recovery.