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Difference Between 'Recovering' and 'Recuperating'

Even though 'recovering' and 'recuperating' refer to the status of a sick person, the two words have different meanings.

Hospital (Photo by Nick Youngson via CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images)

Some people use the word "recovering" and the word "recuperating" incorrectly. The two words are often used interchangeably when they pertain to someone's health. However, there is a big difference between the meanings of those two words, even though their meanings are related.

After a stay in a hospital, a person is either recovering or recuperating, especially if if they have had surgery. Sometimes the word "recovering" is appropriate and sometimes the word "recuperating" is appropriate. There is a certain time when only one of them is correct.

Both words relate to getting well after an illness, and both words come from the medieval Latin word "recuperare," which means getting back something that was lost. Even so, there is a difference between the two words. Therefore, they should not be used interchangeably.

Both words mean a sick person is returning to normal health and getting back the strength they have lost. A key to which word should be used depends on where the person is returning to health. So, let's set the record straight about when to use recovering and when to use recuperating.

Patient Recovering in a Hospital

When a person goes to a hospital for an illness, they might have surgery. After any surgery, a patient is taken immediately to a recovery room until the physicians decide they are ready to go to a private room where they will begin to recuperate.

It is easy to remember which word to use when one keeps in mind that a hospital has a recovery room where a patient recovers for a short time immediately after surgery.  In some hospitals, the room is also called a post-anesthesia care unit (PACU). It is the location a patient is taken after surgery to wake up completely from the anesthesia they were given. 

Also, the patient is watched and receives post-operative care. When the attending physicians decide the patient has recovered from the surgery, they are taken out of the recovery room. They are either put in a regular hospital room to recuperate or are sent home.

Man Recuperating at Home

Patient recuperating at home (Photo by truthseeker08 via Pixabay)

A patient recovers first before they begin to recuperate either in a hospital room or at home. Therefore, it is correct to say that the recovery phase happens immediately after surgery in the hospital and the recuperating period comes later. 

A person recuperates after they recovers. This phase might take place over several days in the hospital or at home. It takes much longer to recuperate than it does to recover. Recuperating is more gradual and happens over a much longer period of time.   

People tend to use the word "recuperate" more than they use the word "recover." During this long period, a person might spend time at home resting and is still under medical supervision while they heal completely.

Review: Recovering vs. Recuperating

Recovery is the first phase after surgery. The patient recovers in a special recovery room in the hospital until they get their strength back from being sedated. Recovery is much shorter than the recuperation period.

Recuperation is a longer and a gradual period of time and is usually done at home. Sometimes patients may have caregivers to make sure they are resting and taking their prescribed medicines. A person might have to go to therapy while they are recuperating. 

Both words are verbs. To recover is to get back or regain the strength lost during illness or surgery. To recuperate is to spend a long time gradually getting back to normal health after an illness. Usually, a person will be on medical leave from their job while they are recuperating. 

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