with Bec McLean, Pilates & Spin Tribe Instructor at Bodytree
In October last year I was faced with the terrifying prospect of needing a total hysterectomy and some repair work done. This was not something I had ever considered needing and so it took some time to come to terms with the information and the procedure itself. I underwent surgery in November. The surgery was a success and now that I am well on the way to recovering fully, I want to share my story with you in case you are about to undergo a similar procedure, have already done so and are now recovering from surgery, or are thinking about the best approach to resuming exercise following childbirth.
Firstly, the hysterectomy. A total hysterectomy is the removal of the uterus. This may, but doesn’t have to, include the removal of the cervix, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.
There are a variety of reasons that one would need to have a hysterectomy:
- Pelvic organ prolapse
- Uterine fibroids
- Heavy periods or other complications
There are a number of ways that a hysterectomy can be performed, according to your specific circumstances. While some are more invasive than others, every hysterectomy is a major procedure that results in substantial abdominal trauma and a long recovery process. (Check out some more information here).
Returning to exercise
I knew it would be a struggle to refrain from exercise for six to eight weeks, but I was determined to listen to my body and my Doctors so that I could recover as well as possible. I gradually increased my walking over the first few weeks but refrained from any heavy lifting (or even light lifting – no sauce pans and especially not the kiddies) for eight weeks. After four weeks, I began to introduce some light Pilates work, after the all-clear from my Physiotherapist. This was mainly seated arm work, where there was no pressure on my pelvic floor or abdominals. I suffered from extreme exhaustion for the first two months, so any exercise I did start to do was only about 10-15 minutes at a time and only if my body was feeling good. My body was constantly shouting at me that it wasn’t ready and to take it easy, and, thankfully (albeit reluctantly!), I listened.
Things I did in the first six to eight weeks
This was my main exercise for eight weeks, much to my dismay! It took a long time to build up the strength to walk for 20 minutes but once I was moving, it felt good to do so. Walking is also recommended by Doctors, as it helps to reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis.
It was challenging to take deep breaths after surgery and so I focused on trying to spend mindful time breathing each day to help move my ribcage (which felt stuck and immovable). Taking deep breaths in and out also is also recommended by Doctors, as it helps to reduce the chance of blood clots in the lungs after surgery.
The healing process and inactivity in my body left me feeling very tight and so I began doing a lot of gentle fascial release and stretching exercises, especially around the pelvic area (think deep squats, happy baby pose and eventually side splits, mermaids and lunges) to try and loosen my tightness.
My posture changed very quickly in the days and weeks after surgery to one that was very protected (rounded forwarded and internally rotated legs). I used the foam roller to help correct my posture by lying on it to open my chest initially and then into some gentle rotation when I felt ready.
Seated arm work (with a band/or light toning balls)
It felt great to get my arms moving and I did so without putting any pressure on my abdominals or pelvic floor. Lots of front and lateral shoulder raises, biceps, triceps etc.
Once the Physio gave me the all clear at 5 weeks post op to do a few more things, I started to introduce some very light reformer exercises. Footwork, side splits, seated arm work etc where I really concentrated on my alignment and breath to start.
Things I avoided in the first eight weeks
- Loaded flexion. No crunches, ab preps, hundreds!!
- Heavy lifting. My definition of ‘heavy’ certainly wasn’t 10lbs before surgery, but it became that way!
- Any impact exercises. No running, jumping, cartwheels!
I am back to Pilates now, although still at a reduced intensity. Being back on the reformer felt great and for me was the best way to return to exercise. It felt safe and I felt there were a lot of exercises I was able to do, without putting any pressure on my abdominals or areas that had been affected from surgery. Pilates allowed me to come back into exercise slowly with deliberate and precise movements, concentrating on form and breathing. It has made me more aware of my body than ever before and I am now much better at listening to how my body feels and acting when it is ready to be pushed but equally pulling back when it is not ready. After fifteen years of fairly intense exercise and training regimes, it is nice to be able to take it back a pace and focus on recovering and rebuilding internally rather than just focusing on the external.
A few final things
There are a lot of similarities between recovering from abdominal surgery and recovering from childbirth. However, after having my two children I certainly didn’t give my body the same patience and care as I have done after surgery. But there is no reason why you shouldn’t!
I highly encourage you to see a Pilates Instructor to help you strengthen your body, especially postnatally or after surgery. Along with this, I would definitely recommend seeing a pelvic floor/women’s health Physiotherapist. Working with a professional can make a huge difference to your understanding of how your body works and give you the knowledge and confidence to continue to strengthen and rebuild your body.
If you are faced with the daunting prospect of having a hysterectomy or if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We should not have to undergo such life changing procedures alone and I would love to be able to help you on your journey.
*Always remember, if pain is severe or immoblizing, please see your health care professional. This post is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to replace trained medical advice*
Bec McLean is a STOTT certified Pilates instructor, with pre and post-natal training as well as fascial movement. Follow her journey @rkmpilates on instagram and come and see her at Bodytree! To book a regular group class or private session with Bec, email firstname.lastname@example.org