Back in December, I had laparoscopic surgery to diagnosis the cause of chronic pelvic pain and dysmenorrhea. Before the surgery, I tried to read everything I could on the surgery, recovery, and returning to running – and found very few resources out there. This blog post is not meant to substitute professional medical advice, but simply to share my experience in returning to running after laparoscopic surgery for those who may be undergoing similar procedures and wondering what to expect.
Laparoscopic surgery is considered the “gold standard” of diagnosis and treatment for pelvic pain and dysmenorrhea. Laparoscopic surgery allows the surgeon to see inside, diagnose the cause of the pain, and remove any adhesions that are causing pain. A laparoscopy is the only definitive diagnosis for endometriosis, which my doctor suspected based on symptoms and family history. After years of frustration and speculations, I wanted answers, so I decided to have surgery.
While any surgery is a significant procedure, laparoscopic surgery is minimally invasive. When used to diagnose pelvic pain, they make two to four small incisions. With the aid of CO2 gas, they are able to explore around the pelvis, reproductive organs, bladder, and intestines and remove any adhesions found (that can safely be removed). The duration of surgery depends on what they find, especially for an exploratory laparoscopy: I was given a window of 45 minutes to 2 hours.
My surgery ended up taking about 45 minutes, since they found two adhesions binding my intestines to my pelvic wall and excised them. These adhesions were the cause of my pelvic pain; since my surgery, I’ve noticed a significant difference. They did not discover any endometriosis.
Returning to Running After Laparoscopic Surgery
Do not underestimate how hard surgery can be on the body, even minor surgery. Running will be there for you when you are fully recovered. Do not pressure yourself into running too soon.
While individual recovery differs, there are some general things you can expect after a laparoscopy: shoulder pain, constipation, weakness, fatigue, and pain. This was my experience:
- Shoulder pain: This is probably the weirdest side effect of the surgery – I dealt with shoulder pain for two days after the operation. As the CO2 dissipates, it pushes on the diaphragm and causes some odd shoulder pain. Everyone I know who had a lap mentioned this to me, but it still surprised me how much pain I felt in my shoulders after an abdominal surgery.
- Sore throat: Again, both my mom and my doctor warned me about this, but I had a sore and slightly swollen throat for about two days from the breathing tube.
- Weakened core: For the first few days, I needed help doing everything, from showering to standing up from the sofa. I couldn’t bend over, sneeze, or laugh without pain. Laying down in bed caused pain. My abdominal muscles hurt for about three days.
- General fatigue and weakness: 10 days before surgery, I ran a 3:29 marathon. A day after surgery, a walk around a small segment of the apartment complex tired me. I slept for hours and took daily naps in the first week post-op.
- Constipation and bloating: This lasted about five days.
- Sleep: The first night, I slept horribly due to discomfort. The second night, I needed to take a painkiller to numb the pain, which was worse at night. I took frequent naps for four days post-op and slept 9+ hours a night up until five days post-op.
Remember first and foremost that every individual recovers at a different rate. Your recovery time will vary based on how many incisions they made, how much they removed, your age, and your fitness level.
One week off from running will not cause any noticeable decrease in your running fitness. If you take two weeks off after surgery with no other cross-training, you will lose a bit of your VO2max (7%, according to most studies) – but that is a small dip that you will easily regain once you return to running. After a laparoscopic surgery, proper recovery will help you far more in the future than trying to run too soon.
- Do not rush back into running. Wait until you are pain free, or until you have met your doctor’s guidelines. You may only need to take one week off, or you may need almost a month off – listen to your body and do not push yourself too soon. Running too soon could actually prolong your recovery or increase your risk of injury.
- On your first run back, run small loops or on a track so you can stop early if you need to. Do not run out too far, just in case you fatigue and cannot run back.
- Do not try to resume your normal training load. When you return to running, start with short and easy runs (such as 30-35 minutes). Gradually increase your mileage back to normal.
- Build back up core strength. Wait until you are cleared to do strength training (usually after the post-op appointment).
- Don’t compare your pace to what you used to run. Your fitness will return soon, but the first few runs back will likely be slower – and that’s okay.
Returning to Running: My Experience
The day of my surgery and the day after were the most painful and exhausting. I had to take painkillers both nights (along with Advil throughout the day) and did very little walking during the days. My core felt wrecked, which made every little movement hurt. On the third day, I was able to leave the house; on the fifth day, I was back to work (since I work from home, I worked on the sofa). I was still sore and tired, but nowhere near as bad as I was post-op.
I was instructed to take 7-10 days off of running and lifting. My doctor knew I was a runner and said I could start running after this point once I felt back to it – I just had to take it easy at first. I took this advice seriously and abstained from any formal exercise for 7 days. I wanted to fully recover in order to tackle my 2018 goals. I deliberately scheduled my surgery for after my marathon, so that I would not feel rushed back into training.
My first run back was 30 minutes easy on the eighth day after surgery. My first few runs back felt a bit harder, so I kept the pace easy. I kept the distance short for a week and then gradually built back up while still maintaining an easy effort. By three weeks post-op, I did not even notice core weakness anymore and was able to resume my normal training load.
My overall fitness contributed to a quick recovery. My doctor remarked on how strong my core was during my initial surgery consult and I really think that helped in the healing process. Prior to surgery, I was running 40-50 miles per week plus strength training and Pilates and had just run a personal best in the marathon – my fitness was high. Even then, for the first few weeks back to running, I ran 10-20 miles per week, did shorter Pilates workouts, and did not lift weights.
Now, over six weeks after my surgery, my running is back to normal. Nothing about how my runs have felt the past three weeks would indicate that I had surgery recently. If anything, the absence of pelvic pain has made my running feel better.
Surgery not a minor event, so prioritize recovery above fitness. But the time off from running is short – and you will find that, after not long, your fitness right back where it was before the procedure.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. Please consult your doctor and heed their instructions first and foremost. Listen to your body.
If you have any questions about this post, I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment or email me at [email protected]
What is the longest time you’ve ever taken off of running?