How to Create a Healing Space for Recovery Post-Surgery

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November 2, 2023
A little girl with a broken leg in a cast is sitting on the couch at home and is drawing. Art therapy and healing.

Recovering from surgery is a journey that affects not only your physical health but also your emotional and mental health. Creating a healing space for patients in postoperative recovery improves safety, comfort, and peace of mind.

The design and environmental choices we make inside a home—including lighting, sound, art, and temperature—can help or hurt the healing process. We spoke to the following experts in the field to create this guide on how to design the ultimate nurturing space for a surgery patient in recovery:


How to Prepare the Home Before Surgery

You should ideally start creating the patient’s healing space well before their operation. Here are some steps to take before the patient undergoes surgery.

Consult with a Health Care Provider

The recovery process will look different for everyone, as it depends on factors unique to the surgery and the patient. For that reason, the patient’s health care provider should be your first point of contact when curating the healing space. Discuss any pre-surgery concerns and get a professional opinion on what home improvements or modifications will best support the patient for their specific procedure.

Safety-Proof the Home and Make It Accessible

For patients recovering from surgery, physical safety is the most important environmental issue, says Low.

“Consider where [the patient] needs to ambulate and what makes that trip safe. For example, are there stairs to traverse? Are the bathroom and kitchen on the same floor as [the] bed?” Low offers.

Simple accessibility modifications can make daily tasks easier for recovering surgery patients.  Papadopoulou emphasizes, “Unfortunately, beyond requirements for accessibility in public places, as an architect, we often don’t think while we design how anyone at any time can experience difficulties in mobility or other abilities, making our houses hard to live in recovery conditions.”

Again, you’ll want to consult with the patient’s healthcare provider to ensure the home improvements make sense for the individual needs. But here are some ways to make a home safer for those recovering from various types of surgery:

Arrange for a Caregiver or Support System

Having a designated caregiver or support team is essential to surgery recovery. As Pentecost points out, “The real issue is whether, whatever they need, they have a support system that can provide that level of assistance.” Caregivers can help with physical tasks and provide emotional support to patients who may be struggling with their lack of independence post-operation.

If you are the primary caregiver for a more intrusive surgery, consider reaching out to others or an in-home medical professional to help you manage care. Keep in mind that if you get stressed or overwhelmed, you’ll likely transfer those emotions to the patient.

Gather Necessary Supplies

Before surgery, make sure the home is stocked with all necessary items for patient recovery. This may include some of the following items:


Ways to Create a Healing Space for Post-Surgery Recovery

Designing a comfortable and nurturing home is essential for patient recovery. Here are some ambiance and design tips to help you create the ideal healing space.

Ergonomic Comfort

Invest in ergonomic furniture that will provide both comfort and safety for a healing body. Ergonomic chairs and pillows offer excellent support. If the patient will endure an extended period of bed rest, opt for an adjustable bed or recliner that easily changes positions or provides elevation.

Nature-Inspired Ambiance

In terms of importance, psychological wellness is a close second to physical safety for surgery patients, says Low. “Sit or lie in the area [they] will be recovering in. Consider what would improve that view.” Ordia adds, “Incorporate natural light and views of nature into the space to enhance mood and well-being.”

One of the biggest pieces of advice is to increase the presence of nature throughout the healing process. If you can’t bring the patient to the outdoors, bring the outdoors to the patient. Studies have shown that green, natural environments can help boost vitality (physical and mental energy).

If possible, move the bed or ergonomic chair close to a window. A landmark 1984 study revealed that having a nice window view can positively influence a patient’s recovery from surgery. “Placing a bird feeder where the healing person can see it brings nature to them when they are stuck in their home to heal,” adds Dr. Low.

Additionally, the increased natural light promotes healing and is a necessary component for many indoor plants, which you should add to the home to mimic a more natural environment. Indoor plants can also help the patient reduce stress and improve focus.

Soothing Sounds, Music, and Art

Playing the right sounds can help create the calming atmosphere that is imperative for healing. Numerous studies have shown that music can have a positive effect on both mental and physical health—improving heart rate, motor skills, and brain stimulation and even boosting one’s immune system.

Listening to soft music before bed can also improve sleep quality, which is extra important for those in recovery. Consider playing guided meditations to encourage mindfulness and relaxation. Similar to sound, adding art can help keep the patient calm during this potentially stressful period. Studies show that viewing artwork can help reduce stress and lower blood pressure.

Privacy and Personal Space

Surgery patients often lose their sense of independence during the recovery period, as they may need help with basic daily tasks. “Provide the things that evoke favorite memories of happier, healthier times,” suggests Pentecost. “Any adjustments that might facilitate some measure of independent behavior, such as walking or dining, by the patient should help the patient heal as they perceive a return to normalcy.”

Having peaceful alone time is also important for rest and recovery, so it’s crucial to provide opportunities for privacy where possible. “Coordinate visitors so that the healing person has them to look forward to but does not become overwhelmed,” says Low.

If the patient’s bed is in a shared room or is in a common area, install privacy curtains or screens to give them a better sense of personal space.

Personalized Healing Sanctuary

Consider creating a designated space for the patient for meditation, prayer, or reflection. It should be a comfortable space adorned with items that provide comfort and personal significance to the patient. Sentimental items may provide a greater sense of purpose during recovery.

“Caregivers should consider the healing person’s normal likes and dislikes in setting up a supportive and healing environment. Hobbies and pastimes they enjoy should be made accessible if possible,” says Low. “Photos, favorite keepsakes, and access to music can help keep spirits high and speed the physical work of recovery.”

Inspirational Motivation

Decorating the healing space with tasteful, inspirational affirmations or quotes can help lift the patient’s spirits and provide motivation. As a temporary option, consider printing these quotes out and placing them in stylish photo frames around the recovery space.

Multisensory Healing

Enhance the healing experience by incorporating all of the senses into the space. Studies show that multisensory design improves quality of life.

“Using different textures, materials, and colors can evoke a range of emotional responses and contribute to a space that feels more supportive,” Papadopoulou notes.

Keep the place at a comfortable temperature at all times. If you set a temperature and the home is not meeting it, you may need to have your windows replaced—cold or warm air could be escaping through cracked or improperly sealed windows. Provide plenty of soft textiles, including blankets and pillows, to keep the patient cozy.

Use diffusers or candles with healing aromatherapy scents to engage the sense of smell, but make sure the scent is one that’s preferred by the patient. Essential oils may aid surgery healing by reducing inflammation, improving sleep, relieving headaches, and more.

Try to bring more natural light into the home if possible. If not, use lamps with soft, warm lights, and try to minimize fluorescents. Of course, keep the patient’s wishes and needs in mind as you design the space—what is cozy to one person may feel overwhelming to another.


Dos and Don’ts When Recovering from Surgery

While a patient’s primary focus before surgery is likely getting through operation day, it’s imperative to anticipate the recovery that comes after. Here are some things the patient should do (and avoid) to regain their strength after surgery.

Post-Surgery Dos

To properly heal from surgery, patients must keep up with the following tasks. Caregivers should help the patient carry out these tasks when the person healing is unable to do so themselves.

Post-Surgery Don’ts

Even if the patient is feeling well, it’s wise to maintain caution and avoid the following.


Organizations That Provide Assistance for Recovering Surgery Patients

Several organizations offer a variety of resources, support, and information for surgery patients. Each is tailored to different types of surgeries.

Cancer Surgeries

Cardiac Surgeries

Cesarean and Postpartum Surgeries

Dental and Oral Surgeries

Eye Surgeries

Gastrointestinal Surgeries

Neurosurgeries

Orthopedic Surgeries

Transplant Surgeries

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeries


In Conclusion

It can be a long road to recovery after surgery. While our bodies rebuild strength in their own time, studies show that creating a healing space that promotes physical and emotional wellness can aid recovery. Pay close attention to design and environmental choices to promote physical and emotional wellness for the patient recovering from surgery.


Our Experts

Maud Low, Ph.D., RNC, CLNC, is a clinical assistant nursing professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Low has been publishing articles on nursing and nursing education since the 1990s and earned a Ph.D. in nursing from UMass Amherst in 2021. Through her academic years, Low developed a second specialty—mental health nursing—in which she has been clinically active at Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Her PhD work is focused on nurse-to-nurse relationships.

Athina Papadopoulou, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of architecture, health, and design at the New York Institute of Technology. She teaches in the Masters of Health and Design and the Bachelors of Architecture programs and codirects the ReMEDia research lab. Papadopoulou’s research focuses on programmable material environments that promote inclusion, support neurodiversity, and enhance health and well-being through sensory interaction and biobased material approaches.

Kendra Locklear Ordia earned a Master of Interior Design degree from the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin, where she focused on biophilic interior design guidelines for health care environments. She is a registered interior designer in Texas, holds a National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) certification, and is a LEED for Building Design and Construction (LEED BD+C) accredited professional. Her research explores nature integration in interior environments through theory, narrative, and designed solutions for increased well-being, equity, and delight.

Ray Pentecost, DrPH, is the director of the Center for Health Systems & Design at Texas A&M University and holder of the George J. Mann Chair of Healthcare Design.  Pentecost is a fellow in the American Institute of Architects and the American College of Healthcare Architects and a former nursing home administrator. Recently, Pentecost received the prestigious 2022 Changemaker Award from the Center for Health Design, which “honors individuals or organizations that have demonstrated an exceptional ability to change the way healthcare facilities are designed and built, and whose work has a broad impact on the advancement of healthcare design.” Pentecost studied architecture at Rice University and public health at the UTHealth School of Public Health, both in Houston.