Background: After surgery it is often recommended that patients should refrain from strenuous physical activity for 4-6 weeks. This recommendation is based on the time course of wound healing. Here, we present an overview of incisional wound healing with a focus on 2 principles that guide our postoperative recommendations: the gain of tensile strength of a wound over time and the effect of mechanical stress on wound healing. Methods: A systematic search of the English literature was conducted using OVID, Cochrane databases, and PubMed. Inclusion criteria consisted of articles discussing the dynamics of incisional wound healing, and exclusion criteria consisted of articles discussing nonincisional wounds. Results: Experiments as early as 1929 laid the groundwork for our postoperative activity recommendations. Research using animal models has shown that the gain in tensile strength of a surgical wound is sigmoidal in trajectory, reaching maximal strength approximately 6 weeks postoperatively. Although human and clinical data are limited, the principles gained from laboratory investigation have provided important insights into the relationship among mechanical stress, collagen dynamics, and the time course of wound healing. Conclusion: Our postoperative activity recommendations are based on a series of animal studies. Clinical research supporting these recommendations is minimal, with the most relevant clinical data stemming from early motion protocols in the orthopedic literature. We must seek to establish clinical data to support our postoperative activity recommendations so that we can maximize the physiologic relationships between wound healing and mechanical stress.
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