When is it Safe to Exercise After a Hysterectomy?
Having a hysterectomy won't derail your health and fitness journey. Once you've made it past the initial stages of healing from surgery, you can slowly return to exercise. Performing maintenance exercises, such as pelvic tilts and Kegels, helps with recovery and will keep your abdominal and pelvic muscles healthy going forward.
After you and your doctor decide which type of hysterectomy is best for you, be sure to work together to create a plan for returning to exercise once the procedure is completed. Focus on healing and using simple movements directly after surgery. You can ramp up your intensity slowly; this will help you safely return to your full routine.
Approaches to hysterectomy surgery
A hysterectomy involves surgically removing the uterus The procedure can be limited to the uterus or include other parts of the reproductive system. The kind of hysterectomy you'll need is determined by the type and severity of the condition being treated.
There are four common approaches to hysterectomy surgery:
- Abdominal hysterectomy. This is the most invasive option and involves a large incision in the lower part of the abdomen. It is often chosen if removal of the ovaries and oviducts (fallopian tubes) is necessary. Recovery is more prolonged with this form of surgery than any other.
- Vaginal hysterectomy. This surgery involves removal of the uterus through the vagina and is much less invasive with a significantly shorter recovery time.
- Laparoscopic hysterectomy. This operation involves the removal of the uterus through small incisions made in the lower abdomen. This procedure results in less pain and a shorter recovery time than an abdominal hysterectomy. While you'll have scars, they are minimal and often don't cause long-term problems.
- Robotic hysterectomy. This is similar to a laparoscopic procedure, as it involves making small incisions in your abdomen. The use of robotic equipment allows the surgeon to be more precise and limit the pain and time of recovery. You will have scars, but they will be small and heal quickly.
Hysterectomy recovery and exercise
For the first two weeks following surgery, you will likely be restricted on the amount of weight you are allowed to safely lift. You're encouraged to walk during this time, but it's important to keep a slow and easy pace for a limited distance. This is a time period when you'll experience postoperative pain and fatigue due to the energy required for your body to heal.
Between about two and six weeks after your operation, as long as your doctor has cleared you for more movement, you can start with simple activities such as walking longer distances and doing low-impact strength exercises. A great way to ease back into physical activity is to start with mindful breathing exercises. These will help you feel more connected to your body and begin the process of strengthening your abdominal wall. Pelvic tilts and Kegel exercises are also encouraged at this point in your recovery. You may find easy stretching can be helpful.
While everyone heals at a different pace, most women are able to return to unrestricted exercise approximately six to eight weeks after a hysterectomy. Keep in mind that having no medical restrictions does not mean you should dive headfirst into your preoperative exercise program. Go slow and pay attention to the signals your body is sending you. If you love cardio workouts, start with a shorter, low-impact program and build your endurance back up gradually. If you enjoy strength training, be sure to start with lighter weights and begin with a good warmup. The pelvic tilts and breathing exercises you did for the first month or so after your surgery will be an excellent addition to your warmup going forward. The Kegel exercises will come in handy as well; perform a Kegel with each repetition of your strength workout to gain control of your pelvic floor.
If you're set to undergo a hysterectomy, there's no reason to fear you won't be able to exercise afterward. It's important to check in with your doctor before returning to your workout program, so your body has the appropriate amount of time to heal. Once your body is ready, you can gradually restart activity.