Returning to Running after Laparoscopic Surgery

Returning to Running After Laparoscopic Surgery

Back in December, I had laparoscopic surgery to diagnose 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

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 After Laparoscopic Surgery

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.

Returning to Running After Laparoscopic Surgery
My progression of mileage after my surgery

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 is 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]

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39 Responses

  1. You really had a good recovery and return to running, especially considering how little you could do those first few days after surgery! I bet the pilates really helped with the whole process. When I had hip surgery in 2010 my recovery was on the shorter side and my Dr. and PT said it was probably because before the surgery I had kept up with core work, cross training, and strength training.

  2. I had to take 6 weeks off last year due to peroneal tendonitis… and I am with you, the fitness DOES come back. You can’t worry about the first week or two of runs but it comes back quicker than people would believe. Sometimes our bodies just need the break and if you have a big base of 40-50 mpw, that doesn’t just go away.

    I’m glad the surgery went well for you and you had a good recovery… you did good timing it right after the marathon too. I feel like your tip about running loops is a great one for anyone recovering from anything- I’ve done easy runs on a track for that reason, I can stop any 1/4 mile!

    1. Thank you! I agree – when you have a good base, fitness isn’t lost that easily. The track is such a great tool for coming back to running – you don’t even have to walk far if you want to stop!

  3. So glad you found the cause of your pain! I had that surgery too, for suspected endometriosis/infertility. They found some adhesions but it didn’t really help. Now that my cycle is finally back after postpartum, the pain is back too, though not nearly as intense – I still have hope it will clear up as everything normalizes. I feel like so many of us walk around with pain like this and never find any answers.

    1. I am so sorry to hear you went through a similar thing! My doctor told me that, while adhesions caused the pelvic pain that lingered all the time, my painful periods and likely subfertility are likely due to long and irregular cycles and my hormones (since they are so long, I haven’t had a cycle yet since my surgery to figure out if it helped with the dysmenorrhea). It’s a rough thing to deal with and I hope you find some relief from your pain and your cycle normalizes.

      1. Thanks so much for writing your story Laura, I am keen runner and when I found out I needed laparoscopy and removal of 2 large ovarian cysts I was worried how long I would be recovering for. Your blog gave me the confidence to try a slow steady run day 9 after surgery- being very mindful of pain and not pushing my body too hard. I am planning to take it easy for next few weeks with running but very happy to be able to get out. As you said there is not much information out there about running and laparoscopic surgery and thank you for sharing your experience.

  4. This is a great post–having had abdominal surgery a couple times, I can attest to the importance of rest and allowing yourself to heal but not waiting too long to ease back into activities. I’m having some pelvic pain right now and I’m pretty sure it’s adhesions from previous surgery. I need to get it checked out but don’t want to have another surgery!

  5. Continue everything about your task. Your flyers, your letters, arrangement data – everything. You may get awesome data for your first lap and scarcely anything for your second, so your letters and flyers will cause in the event that you need advance tasks.

  6. Thank you for posting this. I wasn’t a marathon runner prior to the laparoscopy, however, I ran a minimum of 2 miles every other day, did core classes and Zumba strong twice a week. I lifted weights almost everyday. ’ve had my post op and I’m cleared to ease back into my lifting and running. I’m really nervous to start running again, fearing injure myself. I’ve briskly walked three miles every morning for a week. Now I’m ready to get back to my routine.
    I needed this reassurance…thank you and everyone who shared their story.

  7. I think I know where the shoulder pain comes from. I had an emergency laparoscopic appendectomy almost two weeks ago, and had a nearly identical experience to what you described. When I was being prepped for surgery the nurse asked if I had range of motion limitations in my shoulders. She said that they position the arms away from the body for surgery. I said no, although I had chronic pain in one from an injury 6 months before – I said “do what you want”. My injured shoulder really hurt for 3 days after I woke up, then recovered pain-free for the first time since I injured it! After reading your article I thin I’ll try a short run today – thanks!

    Dennis

    1. interesting observation. I’ve had 3 shoulder reconstructions, yet didn’t get this pain, and hadn’t heard of it. I wonder if my team took it easy on my shoulders after seeing my scars & reading my pre-op form…

  8. Thanks for the awesome write-up! I had a laparoscopy + minor surgery four days ago, and have been googling like mad for some indication of when I may be able to run again! I did an easy 4km (slow!) walk today and rested this afternoon and feel pretty good, but will not hurry my return to running. Your blog has helped me to remain focused on the end goal – Thankyou!!

  9. Thank you for your blog. I am not a runner but I attend pilates yoga HIIT classes and etc. Bit no where toned body. Only started early this year and had laparoscopic procedure due to bleeding last year and elevated CA tumour markers. Finally, they found the endometriosis. Anyway, glad i read your blog and has reassured meni can go back to exercises soon, it’s only been 3 weeks so pretty soon i will go back to normal activities. Just not to lift just yet.

  10. Thank you for this post and the description of your experience. I am in my 60s and have been running for 9 years. Typically 3-5 miles 3 times a week though I have run a marathon and several 1/2 marathons. 4 days ago I had an emergency appendectomy – laprascopic – and don’t see the surgeon again for a week. I have a race scheduled in 3 weeks and was wondering what other runners have experienced. I am already walking a mile twice a day, but get really tired – not much pain. Just fatigue. In any case reading your informaion and others who have written is helpful.

    1. I hope you are recovering well from your appendectomy! The fatigue after the surgery is one of the hardest parts (and as I noted, I didn’t have any major things removed) – it took me a few weeks to feel back to normal, but each week was progress. Take it easy – your body will let you know when you are ready to race.

  11. Thank you!I’ve just had a laparoscopy 2 days ago and being a fitness lover and rubbing on average 50-60 miles a week the thought of this recovery time scared me as I was worried of weight gain loss of fitness and strength.
    I’m optimistic that day 7 will be wonderful and day 8 will be a gentle 5k
    I agree with the shoulder pain it’s awful and hurts to move because of all the gas but getting moving helps with that and of course sanity.
    Thank you for this article it’s just what I needed
    Rhi

  12. I’m 66 and have been running approximately 5 kms most days for the past 5 yrs or so. I also do pilates 3 times a week and weights every other day. I had a laparoscopy to remove my one remaining ovary and a cyst a week ago. My surgeon told me I could return to all form of exercise when I was feeling up to it. Day 2 I walked slowly for about 5 kms over the day. I was definitely tired and my main pain has been from the gas…oh it’s been bad. The pelvic area hasn’t bothered me much at all. Four days post surgery I ran slowly on the treadmill for 3 kms and rode my stationary bike for 10 mins. Each day I’ve improved and today…day 7 …I ran 5.5 kms on the treadmill at approximately 6.6 mins per km. It’s slower than my normal pace but I’m happy with that. I’m also lifting hand weights…but light ones. I haven’t felt that my core is strong enough yet to do any pilates. I’ve tried but my tummy feels too vulnerable. When running the co2 pain cones back and it’s really annoying and hurts. My pelvic area feels fine. I’ve got quite a bit of swelling and bruising around the incisions buy no pain except the c02 pain that I was told would go by day 3. The c02 pain is present when running and in and off during the day and night but it’s definitely improving. I think the running helps me burp. The original pelvic pain of the cyst has gone so I’m one happy lady. I thought I’d write about my experience because there’s not may runners in my age group and maybe my comments may help someone else.

    1. Hi Judy, this is really helpful – I was in a cycling accident 2 months ago that resulted in laparoscopic surgery to remove a cyst and fallopian tube (impact jarred the cyst out of place and it wrapped multiple times around tube, causing tubal torsion and infection). Prior to that, I was cycling commuting to work 5 days a week, running up to 10km 2 -3 times a week, doing yoga everyday and strength training 2-3 times a week. None of this was intense, but it was consistent. Now I’m trying to figure out how to pace my return to activity, and it’s been very challenging.

  13. It was great you noted taking small running loops after laparoscopic surgery. One of my cousins is having surgery soon, and she whats to get back on her running routine after surgery. I’ll pass her info she can wait until gather doctor’s guidelines.

  14. I had double-sided laparoscopic surgery to repair my hernia, as an outpatient. In at 11 am, out at 2 pm, and walking the same day. The pain is 7 on a scale of 10, tolerable for me. I had Norco prescribed for pain, a good idea, but causes constipation. I eat a prune and apricot concoction to counter constipation and drink a lot of water.

  15. This is a great post to read as I am going into surgery tomorrow and wanted to be clear on what was realistic in terms of expectations to return to sport. I feel much more empowered now due to this post and the comments, I have clear expectations. Thanks so much for writing this

  16. Thank you for sharing this information. I am set to have pelvis surgery at the end of March due to a large cyst which will not go away apparently it’s 14cm!. I have tried to avoid surgery as I had major surgery at a young age for cervical cancer and did not want the feelings of trauma! however this cyst needs to go! I am an avid runner/ triathlete and hope that my current fitness will help. I appreciate your advice re listening to your body but it is great to hear the positive return to running you made! I am also having laparoscopic surgery (fingers crossed that works!) I am hoping to get back to my exercise as soon as I can but of course ill listen to my body.

    1. Hi, just read your post. I know your surgery was years ago now – I hope it went well and that you’re doing ok. I also had cervical cancer at a young age and have struggled with ovarian cysts ever since my hysterectomy. 2 weeks ago I ended up in emergency surgery for an ovarian torsion – sadly I lost the ovary. I’m finding cysts seem to be a common problem for women after having hysterectomy’s at early ages. I get a rupture every 2 years post hysterectomy. I’m shocked with a cyst as large as yours was that you also didn’t have a torsion.

  17. I really appreciate your write up. I had my laparoscopy surgery 9 days ago and still scare to go for a walk outside , I am very active person who run at least 50miles a week , and do a lot of exercise both core and lifting, am still in shoulder pain and scare to stand up right . Hope to get back on road soon after seeing your write up . Thanks

  18. I had laparoscopy adhension sugery 17days ago and I still feel some pains inside my pelvic. Reading your write up gives me hope to take it easy. We all heal differently.

  19. Just had larascopic hernia surgery March 31 2021 just wondering your thoughts on running maybe a slow mile or two been walking 5miles a day with no pain at all. Did my Even need the pain meds

  20. Thanks for your very helpful information, am a runner in my late 50’s just now D13 post laparoscopic oophorectomy for a cyst ( benign , thank goodness) and have had a similar experience. I have found the exercise bike good for working up a sweat as walking doesn’t get the HR up. Looking forward to some walk/run loops next week at the park and swimming from Week 3 onwards . My surgeon is great but not a runner, so am very grateful for the detailed description of your recovery

  21. Has anyone experienced laparoscopic gallbladder removal? I’m in quite a bit of discomfort now, while waiting for surgery, so relegated to walking but I do walk 3-5 miles per day and use my elliptical when I can as well. I am wondering how the recovery was to get back to running, if anyone has any experiences that they are willing to share.

    1. I had a laparoscopic cholecystectomy 12 days ago. I am 55 and rather overweight- but I did circuit classes two times a week and walked 7k eveyday with my dog prior to surgery. I was in hospital for 24 hrs post op as I kept vomiting and could not eat anything. Discharge from hospital on a weds. Walked 2k with dog on Thursday- pretty tierd. By Saturday I walked 3k in an hour – by 1 week walked 5k in an hour. Now walking 7 – 8 kms per day – in one 5k am walk and one 2-3 km evening walk. Abdomen still pulling and not lifting weights or returned to circuit classes yet. I think next week I will try a few squats and gentle body weight exercises and build up – may even try jogging a bit from lamp post to lamp post.

    2. Hi Julie, I hope you recovered well, how long did it take for you to get back to running ? I am training for Ladakh Half Marathon but had to undergo GB removal 10 days ago. Just 2 days before surgey I finished my second HM in 2.25 hr. Its day 10 after surgery and stitches are still not removed. Doctor says wait for 4 weeks for any exercise, after that take it slow. I am walking a couple of kilometers every day since surgery but am really scared to start running too soon. Any advice would be useful. Thanks

  22. THANK YOU for giving such a detailed description of your experience. Even 4 years later, I found this article to be a HUGE help, and also the comments about other people’s experiences as well. My laparoscopic gallbladder surgery experience has been VERY similar to your experience- I’m a long distance trail runner (definitely not as fast paced :)) but with daylight savings time I was limited to 2 days of long runs (did short runs/strength training the other days prior to my surgery). 3 days after surgery I walked 3.6 miles almost every day (walked in my house the other two days prior to that) and by the 8th day I had zero pain. I was hesitant to start running on day 8 since I hadn’t had my post-op appointment and been cleared…. but I’m also impatient and love running, so on Day 9 I walked approx 2 miles and ran the remaining 1.6 at a slow pace. The next day I ran 3.6 miles, and did a bodyweight leg workout for strength (time under tension) and still felt fine. I would agree with listening to your body, if it hurts you should stop what your doing, you don’t want to lengthen your recovery time. I wish I had seen this article PRIOR to going in for surgery and I wouldn’t have been as nervous knowing what to expect.

  23. Very informative and thanks for sharing your experience. I am long distance runner and underwent laparoscopic assisted hysterectomy and recovering quite well. It’s two weeks exactly post my surgery. I have been walking from the second day of my surgery. Can I sit and strengthen my shoulders with dumbbells? From when can I start my core exercises? Awaiting for your valuable advice

  24. Thank you so much for writing this! Just had laparoscopic abdominal surgery 8 days ago for endometriosis, still taking it easy but anxious to get back to running. Loved reading about your journey!

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