What is penile rehabilitation? When can I start?

Man standing in his tool shed

Doing penile rehabilitation (also called erectile rehabilitation) simply means using medicines or devices to help improve your erections after prostate cancer treatment.

    It refers to helping you:

  • regain your ability to achieve natural or spontaneous erections, or

  • achieve erections using erection medications either in the form of pills or injections, or

  • achieve erections using pro-erectile devices (for example, a vacuum erection device or penis pump)

You can think of penile rehabilitation like any kind of physical therapy or exercise. Similar to doing guided exercises after knee replacement or shoulder surgery.

Does penile rehab include having sex?

Penile rehabilitation is separate from having sex with another person—it's something you can do on your own. However, if you have an interested partner, they can help you do the exercises. Penile rehabilitation is done using various methods—individually and in combination. Some are medical like using pills, injections, and suppositories (or pellets, as they are also called). Other methods are mechanical, like using a vacuum penile pump. In general, these methods are referred to as ‘erectile aids’.

All these methods have potential side-effects. Some have to be taught under medical supervision. Ask your doctor what type of penile rehabilitation they would recommend for you, based on your overall health. This may seem intimidating at first, but you can be taught how to use the tools. Many men find them helpful.

Why is penile rehabilitation after prostate cancer surgery important?

Penile rehabilitation is an important way to keep your penis healthy after prostate cancer treatment. This happens by improving regular blood flow to your penis, which helps keep erectile tissues of the penis healthy. It also preserves penis length—by helping to prevent shrinkage.

Consistent rehabilitation improves your overall chances of preserving and restoring your erectile function after prostate cancer treatment. And timely rehabilitation will prevent permanent damage to erectile tissue.

When can I start penile rehabilitation after prostate cancer surgery?

First—talk to your doctor. You need to be sure it is medically safe for you to start penile rehabilitation. Once you have the green light, begin penile rehabilitation as early as possible after treatment. When you’ve had surgery, this usually means around 3 weeks after your catheter is removed. But this can vary between individuals—so check in with your doctor before you start anything.

Even if you are not actively engaged in sexual activity, penile rehabilitation keeps blood flowing into your erectile tissues and keeps them healthy. So get into a regular routine to achieve the best possible results. This will set you up with healthy erectile tissues for sexual activity when you’re ready to get back in the sack.

How long should I do penile rehabilitation for?

Great question, but the answer depends. Different cancer centers and doctors make different recommendations. And generally, the length of time for working on penile rehabilitation has not been established. However, there’s no harm in doing rehabilitation for 6 to 12 months. Talk to your doctor about what’s best to do in your case.

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