Principles for recovery after surgery

Recovery after surgery depends on multiple factors.  These include the type and location of the operation, the anatomical structures involved, the health of the patient, the skill and dexterity of the surgeon, and the use of materials to strengthen the wound during healing.  Several of these factors are considered in more depth in the following pages.

The tables refer to different activity levels to help identify appropriate work for a rehabilitation programme or phased return, and to help understand recovery timelines. These are explained in more detail below:


A role that does not require mobility, but is entirely desk-based. It would usually involve use of a personal computer and/or telephone but could be a receptionist role. Manual handling would be generally limited to paperwork, small reference books, keyboard and mouse.

Sedentary light manual

A desk-based role or seated role that includes lifting and manipulating objects weighing generally less than around 5kg. This could include working on a production line, or undertaking light repair and maintenance work such as repairing mobile phones or laptops, watch repair, or sewing.

Active light manual

A non-sedentary role that would usually require mobility, either around a shop floor or in the community, visiting clients at home, with either minimimal or no manual handling or lifting and carrying up to around 5kg. Roles could include working in a stores where items are light, working in a management or supervisory role, teaching, coaching, reading meters or checking readings.

Heavy manual

A role with frequent heavy lifting of items around the upper limit of HSE guidelines, 15kg for women and 20kg for men, or occasional heavier items. This would include many warehouse roles, engineering and servicing of vehicles and equipment, most building trades, and healthcare.

Physically demanding

A role with frequent lifting or carrying of very heavy loads, or control and restraint, playing contact sports. Roles might include firefighting, prison officers and police, forestry, farming, and commercial fishing.