Q+A: How soon can I run after abdominal surgery?

Our experts answer real-life questions

Posted: 9 September 2000
by Patrick Milroy

Q I’ve recently undergone abdominal surgery, and the hospital physio has advised me to wait for three weeks before running. I think that this is on the excessive side because I feel fine, and the scar is healing rapidly. Do you agree?

A This is actually a surprisingly common question, and while abdominal surgery sounds quite nasty – getting into the abdominal cavity requires an incision through skin, fat, muscle layers and the peritoneum (the membrane that covers the internal organs) – recovery should be relatively swift. Once sewn up again, and providing that there is no infection or other complication, the peritoneum will heal within days, as will the fat and skin.

However the muscle has to take the strain of intra-abdominal pressure, and as you will probably be aware, healing occurs in two stages. Initially a thickened, inflexible scar join forms with nerve endings that rebel if stretched – causing pain. Only later does the scar tissue become more flexible and adapt to movement – so that the pain on stretching disappears. The time that this takes is fairly constant in all individuals, whatever their state of fitness, and healing must be allowed to occur to prevent weakness in the scar line and the potential for rupture or herniation of the abdominal contents through the weakened muscle.

After surgery, mobilisation is always encouraged, particularly to prevent complications such as deep vein thrombosis. The patient is alerted to over-activity by pain in the scar, and as a result the advice given by most surgeons, for their own as much as the patient’s safety, is not to exercise for six weeks. Depending on the amount of pressure under which the scar is put, some people are able to exercise successfully earlier. For example, tennis champion Pat Cash won at Wimbledon in 1987, playing his first match just 10 days after an appendix operation.

It is quite possible that you could re-commence training in under three weeks after your surgery, but you might not be very pleased if the wound breaks down whilst you are doing so, so take care.

A great deal also depends on the intensity of the training. It is no good waiting for 21 days of nothing and then trying a flat-out track session. If you were to start running in less than three weeks, it should be at a gentle tempo without any pressure. You can then slowly increase intensity and mileage over time, building up to full training after the six-week mark.

Dr Patrick Milroy, RW Medical Advisor

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post-operative recovery, abdominals

Discuss this article

Can someone please help.
I have had surgery by laparoscopy, some of which involved Sacro iliac repairs. I have been told by my surgeon not to run for six weeks. I am walking but find that this soon gives me backache after about half an hour. It is now three weeks after the op and I am really worried that my training levels will be back to zero in 6 weeks.

1. Will I be able to train up in time to do the London Marathon in April. I was running 10K and 10-13 milers prior to my op.

2 Any suggestions for keeping my fitness levels and muscle tone up in the meantime?
Posted: 27/11/2002 at 08:02

Jane, The short answer is "I don't know" but have you asked you GP or considered gym training. I don't particularly like it compared to a run but I have recently found it really helpful whilst recovering from injury. It is low impact and you can help prevent your fitness falling away too quickly. As soon as I am back to runing fitness I shall not go apart from maybe once in a while. Our local Council owned gym is well equipped and at £3.25 for as long as you like and I think it is well worth it. Steve.
Posted: 27/11/2002 at 08:49

I am in the hopes that I can run and exercise and play squash after an ovarian cyst removal. I am terrified that I won't be able to get back in shape since I fear that running may cause a hernia. Although it has only been two weeks since my surgery, I know I am still healing. I had an incision in my belly (laproscopy) and I have stitches on my bikini line. The incision in my belly hurts more than the other one. I guess when I bend, straighten up or even go down steps, I feel it all in my core. Doctor told me six weeks, I guess I am going to take this time to heal. Please advise whether I will be able to run and be back to normal without feeling any pain after the six weeks? 
Posted: 04/04/2011 at 06:47


 I had a laparotomy (not keyhole surgery; the incision was from sternum to groin) for a splenectomy in November of 2009. I ran a half marathon at the end of January, and another halfway through February. As long as you allow five-six weeks to heal, you should be able to pick up the fitness fairly quickly. I needed to stretch a lot, though, and do a lot of work strengthening my core again. As for pain--there was some, and I sometimes get twinges from it, but my feet generally hurt more.

Posted: 02/08/2011 at 13:23

A big NO in my opinion.

I had open surgery with ~18cm cut in abdomen to remove gallbladder on 19th Sep and its 4th week . I feel i am recovering well but still i feel pain in internal stitches when sneeze. Not very comfortable laying down by the right side. Taking all precaution to avoid any risk of below, please note if unfortunately below occur the side effects are long lasting and require repeated surgery to fix. Also abdomen surgery are not very simple in term of body gaining body's original state. Yes, i mean it because anything very obviously wrong with that will be visible otherwise there are people who notice the impact in long run even as long as 10 to 15 years!

I have the example of of one of my friend and my mother

1.) Skin tear

2.) Hernia : Rupture in smooth muscle tissue through which a bodily structure protrudes

3.) Adhesion: Abnormal union of bodily tissues; most common in the abdomen

Rest your body your choice!

cheers and wish for speedy recovery.

Posted: 11/10/2011 at 10:38

Don't know whether this is the right thread but a doctor who I have never met said I needed a diagnostic laparoscopy which I don't want (I hate doctors and hospitals). The date they gave me is 6 days before a half marathon. The doctor gave me no indication of recovery time but the nurses gave me 4 different opinions ranging from 5 days to 6 weeks before I can run again. Can I still run it? If not should I cancel it? Also I can't train without a goal so if I agree to the surgery then I will stop training.

Any advice?

Posted: 01/07/2013 at 21:04

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