Uterine, ovarian and cervical cancer, otherwise untreatable fibroids, endometriosis, a prolapsed uterus and chronic pelvic pain are some of the reasons women undergo hysterectomy surgery. A majority of women have total hysterectomies, removing the entire uterus and cervix. A partial hysterectomy removes only part of the uterus, and a radical hysterectomy — usually done when a large amount of cancer is present — removes the uterus, part of the vagina, the cervix and its surrounding tissues. Doctors perform the surgery either through an abdominal incision or vaginally.
Post-surgery recovery depends in large part on the surgical method elected by your doctor. Your health history, physical condition and reason for surgery are the main determiners of whether you receive an abdominal or vaginal hysterectomy. In general, recovering from an abdominal incision takes four to six weeks of gradual return to activity. Recovery time for a vaginal hysterectomy is typically faster, at three to four weeks. With physician approval, performing certain exercises and gentle activities can promote healing as your recovery gets underway. Following an uncomplicated hysterectomy, you might be able to resume your normal, unmodified workout routine within six to eight weeks.
To improve your posture and gently strengthen your lower back, abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, you should perform pelvic tilts and Kegel exercises as soon as your doctor give you the go-ahead. Both can be done in bed. Kegels consist of contracting and holding your pelvic floor, or the muscles you use to prevent gas slippage or urine leakage. Pelvic tilts help to reestablish pelvic-lumbar stability while stretching your lower back. Perform the tilts lying down with your knees bent and your feet on the bed. Tilt your pelvic “bowl” up toward your torso to press your lower back flat. Your doctor can provide you with a full list of early exercise recommendations and instructions.
Your fitness level prior to surgery can have a large influence on how quickly you’ll get back up to speed post-hysterectomy. An avid exerciser with muscular strength and endurance generally will recover faster than a sedentary woman with little muscle tone. It’s usually advised that you don’t do more than the specific recovery exercises prescribed by your doctor for the first two weeks. Walking around the house as much as possible also will improve blood circulation and promote healing. If you experienced an uncomplicated hysterectomy, you should be able to start a walking program after that, gradually building back up to your pre-surgery exercise routine by about the sixth week.
After a vaginal hysterectomy, women tend to feel as though they’re capable of doing more in a shorter amount of time, but follow the advice of your doctor and listen to your body. In general, avoid heavy lifting and strenuous activity for the first six weeks. Intense activity, or too much activity too soon, following any type of hysterectomy can result in internal bleeding at the surgical site. If you had an abdominal incision, vigorous exercise can result in abdominal separation, which can lead to a hernia. If you experience pain, cramping, abdominal pressure, shortness of breath, or don’t feel well in general, stop exercising and give your body a rest.
- “The Essential Guide to Hysterectomy”; Lauren F. Streicher, M.D.; 1998
- The Society of Gynecological Oncology of Canada: Understanding your Abdominal Hysterectomy