How Soon Can I Work Out After Surgery? Tips for Getting Back to Your Fitness Routine After Going Under
- While it’s important to take adequate rest after surgery to ensure the best possible recovery, many of us are itching to get back into our fitness routine as soon as possible. However, it’s important to take precautions to make sure you don’t compromise your health or safety.
- There are several things to consider before jumping back into surgery, including your previous fitness level, so it’s important to plan and execute the safest return back to your previous workout hustle.
- Most importantly, take things slowly, pay attention to physical cues, and as always, consult with your doctor as you get back to working out.
If you fancy yourself a fitness junkie, one of your most pressing questions may be how soon you’ll be able to work out after surgery. Whether you prefer a morning surf session, would rather run, or absolutely love leg day, going under the knife can put a dent in your fitness schedule—but the good news is it doesn’t have to be a permanent one. Read on for our all you need to know about when you can work out after surgery and how to get back to your exercise routine safely.
1. It depends on the procedure and your fitness routine.
If you’re undergoing a major invasive procedure or having surgery due to a sports injury, you’re obviously in for a longer wait than someone who had something more minor done. How long you can get back to activity also depends on the activity at hand. Getting back to playing soccer or running miles after an ACL replacement is going to take much longer than getting back to bicep curls—the same way that getting back to swinging a golf club after shoulder surgery is going to take much longer than getting back to leg presses or daily cardio. The general rule of thumb is to start light with low-impact cardio and stretching (more on this below) and focus on muscle groups that are far away from your surgery site.
2. Make a plan so you’re not tempted to rush it.
The most important piece of advice regarding when you can work out after surgery is probably the one you least want to hear: don’t rush it. Just because you’ve been running marathons since you were a teenager or practicing yoga for decades doesn’t mean you can get back to your regular routine quicker than your doctor advises. You don’t want rush your recovery only to undo all of the work your surgeon did, and ultimately have to go under the knife a second time. In fact, according to a 2015 study conducted by the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, 8.4% of patients ages 21 and under who underwent ACL surgery eventually had to undergo a second ACL surgery—with the median time between surgeries being a surprisingly short 1.6 years. Avoid re-injuring yourself by talking (and listening!) to your doctor at your pre-op appointment to get a solid idea of when it’s safe to work out after surgery or start playing sports again. Make sure you’re both on the same page about what “working out” means (your doctor might be thinking a light jog while you’re thinking a half marathon)—and be sure you develop a clear timeline for starting physical therapy and easing back into things.
3. Ease into it.
No matter how ready you feel to work out after surgery, you have to walk before you can run (as the old adage goes). Starting with at-home, doctor-approved stretching and short bouts of low-impact cardio (think: a 10-minute walk around your neighborhood) is often your best bet before you dive into regular treadmill sessions or heavy weight lifting. Remember: no matter how active and healthy you are, surgery is still serious business—and it’s extremely stressful on your body. General anesthesia can affect your memory, concentration and reflexes for 48 hours (and, in some cases, the effects of anesthesia can last even longer than that)—so, even if your procedure was minor and you’re feeling well the very next day, starting off slow is absolutely key.
4. Use tools to keep your edge.
So maybe you can’t throw on those gloves and head to your favorite kickboxing class right away, but you likely can do some low-impact arm workouts on your couch with a resistance band. Likewise, if you’ve had knee surgery, cycling is probably going to be a big part of your physical therapy routine as you recover. Once your doctor says it’s safe, you can use a small stationary peddler machine to work on building ligament strength and getting your range of motion back. While it’s important to take things slow and always heed your doctor’s advice, it’s also important that you start working on regaining your edge as soon as it’s safe to do so—and tools like support braces, stationary elliptical trainers, and stretch straps are all great ways to work on getting active again. Remember, the longer you stay stationary, the more atrophied your muscles will become and the more restricted your range of motion will be. (Pro tip: If you’re absolutely dying for a great sweat session but aren’t able to safely work out yet, try heading to an infrared sauna to get your heart rate going without risking injury.)
Overall, when it comes to when you can work out after surgery, it all comes down to listening to your surgeon, taking things slow, and preparing yourself for a change in your fitness routine. By talking to your doctor, taking proactive steps to prepare, and maybe even purchasing a feel tools to help you along the way, you can ensure a safe, fast, healthy recovery…and hopefully steer clear of visiting the operating table again in the near future.