fitness · Guest Post · running

Keeping Fit While Healing from Hysterectomy Part 2(b): The “Running” Edition

(Part 1 and Part 2(a) here.)

Returning to jogging after a hysterectomy is proving to be a longer process than returning to lifting–or maybe it just seems that way? When you need to regress a lift, it’s pretty straightforward–you use lighter weights, you do fewer reps, or you do an easier version of a movement. But how do you regress jogging, especially when you (I) are (am) not starting from a place of much strength to begin with?

When I was in “really good” jogging condition, I could go about 5 miles at about an 11-min mile pace. (I was in a good place with my jogging when I first wrote this piece about calling myself a “runner.”) I achieved that feat of jogging mediocrity by going out once a week to run pretty much every weekend for a handful of years. It was slow, plodding progress that suited my slow, plodding movements.

That ended over a year ago, when pain made it less feasible. First my hip, and then later, my uterus, made any kind of plyometric movement too painful to let it be enjoyable. So, enter today, post-hysterectomy, and with over a year of physical therapy attempting to address the imbalances and mobility challenges that made jogging a problem.

And I really want to run again.

In fact, about 5 weeks after my surgery, I found myself practically jumping out of my skin with energy–I needed to move, to really exert myself after weeks and weeks of being careful and modulating my movements. Do you know that feeling? Maybe you’re out walking and your feet are just skipping ahead, seemingly without a conscious decision on your part? That’s where I was at. I NEEDED to move.

So, I did. I went out on my daily walk, and while I was at the park, I did a slow, shuffling jog from one light post to the next. Then I walked a while to catch my breath (3 light posts?), and I jogged again. I had to keep my feet very close to the ground, as bouncing felt unpleasant, and I found myself sort of holding my abdomen with my hands, as if I could support my insides by holding my outsides. I did this lightpost-based interval training for the rest of the walk and crossed my fingers that I hadn’t hurt myself unknowingly. But I seemed ok.

The next day, I was achier than usual. My abdominal muscles were telling me that I had used them, and I felt swollen around my vagina. But otherwise, it really seemed to be ok.

So, when I was released to return to normal activities a week later (I cowardly didn’t tell my doctor about my little jogging experiment . . .), I added these little walk-jogs after my lifting sessions sometimes. And I have to say, even if just for brief moments, it feels amazing to move and break a sweat. It’s helping with muscle soreness from returning to lifting, too–I feel so much more mobile afterwards.

I’m monitoring my hip, but so far, it seems to be going along with it ok, too. Someone I’ve read online (Tony Gentilcore, perhaps?) wrote about pain and how to monitor if an exercise is helping or hindering. Whoever it was talked about measuring your pain beforehand on a scale, say you’re a 3 on a scale of 1-10, and then afterwards. If your pain is the same or one notch higher than before, a 3 or 4 in my example, then keep doing what you’re doing. Only if it increases the pain more than that do you pull back on the activity, since it might be doing more harm than good. I like this model, as it acknowledges that I don’t have to expect to be pain free. Many of us do not live like that, and fear of the pain makes it worse than accepting it does.

There are a few more resources out there for people returning to running after a hysterectomy than there are for returning to lifting, but most of the advice boils down to “take it slowly and feel it out before you do too much,” usually paired with the seemingly obligatory, “everyone is different.” Decades ago, they told women not to run afterwards, ever. But advice back then was to never run while pregnant, too, and as more people have researched this, the more we’ve learned that activity does not have to be as restricted as once feared. In fact, for many people, increased activity makes the healing go more smoothly. Thankfully, my surgeon seems to agree with this perspective, and I don’t have to feel like I’m going against doctor’s orders (because, let’s be honest, I’d be doing all this stuff anyway).

And so, I am doing these walk-jogs two or three days a week. I can’t state enough how good it feels to push myself and work up a sweat, although I have to stay very mindful of how I’m moving–keeping my steps short and low to the ground to avoid jostling my insides too much. It is getting less uncomfortable each week, and I am slowly increasing the length of the jogging intervals. One unexpected positive outcome of this surgery may be that I have found a new way to build jogging into my routine–doing short bouts after lifting sessions instead of one longer one on the weekends. Although it’s too soon to know if it will stick as a routine once the school year is back in session.

Thus, I continue to push forwards as I heal. I can still feel uncomfortable at times, but that does seem to be slowly getting less common. Sitting for too many hours can be just as problematic as “overdoing it” on a jog or at the gym. Either way, I have five weeks before I have to be back to my full work/life routine. I feel very fortunate to have the luxury of this time, and I plan on taking advantage of it to build my strength and endurance at my own pace.

Can you relate to the impulse to just GO after a long period away from movement? Do you have experience returning to running (or lifting) after a hysterectomy? I’d love to hear from you!

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them back down again (and occasionally jogging from light post to light post) in Portland, Oregon.

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