Medically Reviewed By | Johannah Gregg, DNP FNP-C
If you are due to have surgery or have recently undergone an operation, you might start wondering how soon you can jump back into your workout routine. After all, you don’t want to lose all those hard-won fitness gains.
But exercising again too soon can cause setbacks in your recovery and might even have serious health consequences. So how soon can you start exercising again after an operation?
Should I Exercise After Surgery?
Although there are risks to strenuous exercise after surgery, when done right, exercise can be a good idea as you recover. Exercise helps promote blood flow throughout the body, support the range of motion, and even aid recovery.
On top of the physical benefits, exercise can also help promote a more positive mental outlook, which is important for dealing with the recovery process from any injury.
However, all of this comes with important caveats, as excessively strenuous exercise can aggravate a performed surgery and delay your recovery. Ultimately, by being careful and you can incorporate exercise into your routine not too long after surgery and enjoy multiple benefits.
When Can I Start Working Out Again?
Exercise is an important part of anyone’s daily routine, but if you work out regularly, it can be considerably tough to have to sit idle. You should be cautious regardless of how excited you are to start exercising after surgery. Before you determine that it is safe to start working out again, you should consider several important factors.
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Answer
The number one rule of working out after surgery is that there are no hard and fast rules. Operations can range from minor to extremely invasive, and all bodies respond differently to anesthesia, the procedure itself, and the recovery process.
Depending on the nature and complexity of your operation, you might need to wait anywhere from 2 weeks up to 3 months or even longer before exercising hard again. Remember that this is just an estimate, and your timeline may look different per surgeon recommendation.
Once given the all clear to resume activity or with guidelines from your surgeon or physical therapist, who is typically the person to manage treatment plans post-surgery.
How Fit Were You Before Your Surgery?
Fitter and healthier bodies tend to bounce back more quickly. This means that if you were very active before your operation, you might be able to safely start exercising again earlier than someone who exercised more infrequently. Be realistic about your fitness levels and how quickly you usually recover from injury or illness, and plan accordingly.
Don't be disappointed though; rehab after surgery is a great way to start introducing a regular workout routine into your schedule, whatever that looks like for you.
Additionally, Johannah Gregg, DNP, FNP-C notes that a proper rehab regimen will provide foundational information about proper techniques for exercise, which can support the strength training of alternative muscle groups to promote optimal performance and prevent future injuries.
Talk to Your Doctor
The best way to gain more insight into your recovery process is to consult your doctor. Only your doctor can give you a personalized estimate of your recovery timeline and how long it may take before you have healed enough to handle exercise.
Remember, your doctor makes recommendations based on your condition and your special circumstances. Therefore, your doctor truly knows best. Don’t try to be a hero and disregard your doctor’s advice by jumping back into your workout as soon as you think you can; it could have significant consequences.
How Do I Reintroduce Exercise After Surgery?
If you have talked to your doctor and feel ready to start exercising again, you should feel comfortable reintroducing some activity into your daily routine. However, don’t plan on rushing back into the heavy weights or the long-distance run if you want to maintain your recovery timeline. Before you jump back into exercise, you should consider the following tips.
Give Yourself Time
One of the most important tips to remember when reintroducing exercise after surgery is to be patient. After your surgery, you cannot expect to start exercising the next day.
Dr. Johannah Gregg notes: “You need to gradually build back up strength and stamina, and depending on your surgery, you may have had ligaments cut through. Ligaments need long-term care such as strengthening and stretching to prevent reinjury.”
You should expect to wait at least a couple of weeks before incorporating even light exercise into your routine. You must give your incisions or stitches time to heal before potentially putting them under strain or stretching them out.
Gregg highlights the importance of following medical advice in order to help prevent the chances of rupturing a stitch and reopening a wound, which can put you at risk of infection, ultimately resulting in worsening of the initial injury.
By jumping into activity too soon, you can push your body to use energy and nutrients that could be directed toward speeding up the healing process.
Choose Your Type of Exercise Wisely
You might need to modify your fitness routine after an operation, but this does not mean you can’t exercise at all. For example, imagine you’ve had surgery on your knee. You might need to avoid high-impact exercises that involve running and jumping for some time, but it might be safe to do a less intensive exercise, like swimming, much sooner.
You can also use this opportunity to try out new sports or activities. Cycling, yoga, Pilates, and rowing are all low-impact exercises that can get your heart rate up, help your muscles start moving, and support your overall fitness. By adapting your routine, you can get yourself back into your exercise routine sooner. After all, an exercise you are not used to is better than not exercising.
Don’t expect to jump back into exercising at the same intensity as you did before your surgery. As the saying goes, you’ll need to walk before you can run. Even if you regularly run several miles before your operation, start with a light jog or brisk walk. This will keep your muscles healthy and prevent your overall fitness from dropping too much without compromising your recovery process.
Most importantly, you should listen to your body when you restart your exercise routine. Always stop your workout at the first sign of pain or discomfort. Do not try to power through your workout or be tougher than the pain. Chances are that the discomfort exists for a reason, and pushing through it can lead to greater issues.
As you work back into a new routine, consider the following:
- Walking is a great exercise that always helps get your blood flowing without too much strain
- Cardio is less-intensive than weight-lifting and still very beneficial
- Expect to avoid certain motions to protect your surgery site
- Start by targeting muscles away from the operation point.
Practice Self Care
If you find your body responding well to the added exercise, you can gradually increase the intensity. However, the key word is “gradually.” Don’t expect to return to your pre-surgery form just because a couple of workouts went well — take it a few extra reps at a time.
Set realistic goals that keep your condition in mind and allow you to be patient with yourself. Self-care should take place outside of your workouts as well. If you are going to exercise after surgery, you must support your body in other essential ways.
Namely, ensure you get considerable rest, as sleep supports the natural healing process by supporting tissue regeneration and repair. Your diet is also a key factor in the recovery process so that you can give your body the nutrients it needs to heal.
Always Follow Medical Advice
It’s never possible to emphasize this too much: if you’re in doubt about what you can safely do, the best person to advise you is your surgeon or doctor. Ask about the recovery process before your operation so that you can plan accordingly, but be prepared for your body to respond differently than you expected.
The most important thing to do is to follow medical advice at every stage. Not doing so is a recipe for harming yourself and setting back your recovery even further.
Having a physical therapist throughout the process can help you get consistent and targeted guidance and support as you work your way back into exercise. Their expertise can also help you determine which exercises might aggravate your condition and which might be good options.
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We recommend wearing your sleeve as much as is comfortable, including at rest or sleep when your body is working overtime to repair any damage.
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