You may have never realized this, but abdominal muscles play a key role in getting you going in your everyday life. They keep you upright and help you move, lift things, cough, sneeze, and even laugh.
If you have just had your surgery, you surely have found that out by now at the latest. As those things now might seem hard to perform.
Of course your abdominal muscles are hurt after surgery, your doctor cut right in it. So to rebuild those muscles after ostomy surgery is hard, but necessary.
But first the question is: Is it even possible to workout and exercise with a stoma?
You can and should exercise with a stoma as long as you start slowly. An Ostomy surgery weakens your core, muscles that are necessary for almost every action and movement; from standing upright to moving, twisting, and even laughing or coughing. Therefore, it is important to regain abdominal and core strength and stability. In order to achieve this, it is recommended to start slow after your stoma surgery with simple breathing exercises and walking. As soon as you feel comfortable, you can introduce gentle workouts into your routine and start exercising with a stoma. Besides strengthening the core, a light and regular exercise program can also greatly reduce the risk of hernias as well as benefit your mental health, well-being, and happiness.
Those benefits sound too good to let them go, right? Therefore, we created this article to help you achieve them and to build an exercise routine. We will explain to you the importance of exercising post-surgery and provide you with 10 tips to ensure an easy and safe workout. Additionally, you will find a gentle exercise program perfect for ostomates, which you can download and print for free!
(Because we all know how lovely it is to quit on exercising, especially when we don’t have something in front of our eyes reminding us everyday)
The period after ostomy surgery can be both physically and mentally challenging. An ostomy surgery weakens the abdominal muscles as doctors have to make an incision to form the ostomy. This will weaken your core muscles enormously which, what you know by now, are needed for almost every movement and activity. If your core muscles remain weak, it will take longer for the pain to subside and you will also fall at risk of developing a hernia.
Exercising with a stoma is important to regain strength in your abdominal muscles post-surgery. And not only that: Exercising regularly has other additional benefits such as better overall health and wellbeing. Doctors have long discovered that regular exercise is associated with lower stress levels and better mental health. So apart from the reduced risk of developing post-surgery complications such as a hernia, regular exercise can help people to lower stress levels, reduce their recovery period, and gain body confidence.
While it is important to exercise with a stoma, it is also important to be cautious right after surgery. It is very important to speak to your doctor about the right exercise program for you. Every individual is different; you will need to discuss with your doctor what works best for your specific case. Start slowly as you heal, and once you are healed you will be able to do as much as you were able to before!
In the following, you will find an exercise program for people with an ileostomy, a colostomy, or a urostomy to help regain their core muscle strength. The exercises have been arranged in the order of when you can start doing them: right after surgery, 1-2 weeks after surgery, from 3 weeks after surgery onwards.
You can start these exercises from the day of your surgery itself and perform them in sitting, standing, or lying down – whatever feels comfortable to you. Place your hand on your belly. Breathe in slowly, counting to four. Hold your breath for three seconds. Breathe out slowly, counting to four. Repeat this 15 to 20 times, 2 to 3 times a day. Over the next few days, increase the number of counts for which you breathe in, hold, and breathe out a little at a time, as you get stronger.
For example, start with breathing in and breathing out for six seconds, and hold for four seconds. The longer you are post-surgery (and the more often you perform the exercise), the more you can increase the amount of seconds. Try different things and do whatever feels good (breathe whenever you run out of air!)
Walking is extremely important after surgery. Within a few hours from your surgery, your nurse or doctor may make you walk around the hospital room. It can be difficult at first and you may require crutches to start off, but try walking every day.
This is crucial in helping you slowly regain strength and keep your muscles active. You may start by walking for only five minutes on the first few days of surgery, slowly increasing it until you can take long walks.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Take a slow, long breath, counting to eight. As you do so, tighten your abdominal muscles gently. Hold for 3-5 seconds, then breathe out slowly, counting to eight.
Repeat 10-15 times daily.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Slowly twist your knees on one side and hold it for 3-5 seconds, or as long as it is not painful. Do the same and twist your knees on the other side. Repeat 6-10 times, 3-5 times on each side. Do this daily.
When your surgery is already longer ago, you can increase the intensity by keeping your feet lifted in the air instead of having them flat on the floor.
Lie on your back with your knees flat on the ground. Slowly, bring your pelvis close to your belly button and think of rather pushing it further towards the floor than lifting up. You should feel your abdominal muscles tighten as you do so. Loosen up.
Repeat 15 to 20 times daily.
Seated leg raise:
Sit on a chair or ball with your feet flat on the ground. Breathe in slowly, and tighten your abdominal muscles. At the same time, lift one of your feet approximately 10 cms off the ground. Hold for 3-5 seconds. Breathe out as you put your foot down. Repeat with another foot.
3-5 times on each leg, 6 to 10 times daily.
Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground. Your knees are bent and your feet are flat on the floor. Lift your pelvis slowly off the ground and try to hold your body straight from your knees to your shoulders. Do this 5 to 10 times. Repeat 2 – 3 times during the day, every day.
Alternate leg raises:
Lie on your back with your legs flat on the ground. Raise your right leg as high as you can, then lower your leg gently. Repeat with your left leg. Tighten your abdominal muscles when the leg is raised.
Do this 6 to 10 times, 3 to 5 times on each side. Repeat daily
Chair or ball sit-ups:
Sit on a chair or alternatively a ball with your feet flat on the ground. Breathe in slowly and tighten your abdominal muscles. As you do so, slowly stand up. Hold for 3-5 seconds. Sit down on the chair again.
Repeat 5 to 10 times daily.
Sitting on a ball 1:
Sit on a ball with your knees together and your hands on your waist. Hold this position for 15 to 30 minutes, or as long as it is comfortable. The later you are post surgery, the longer you can hold this position on a ball. You can simply change your chair to a ball and you don’t even recognize that you are working out! It is great for stabilizing your core and regaining balance.
Do this 5 times a week.
Sitting on a ball 2:
Sit on a ball with your knees apart. Slowly bring your knees together, breathing in as you do so. Breathe out as you pull your knees apart again. Repeat 5-10 times, or as long as you don’t feel uncomfortable. Repeat daily.
Hand and Leg raises:
This exercise can be performed either lying down or sitting on a ball with your knees together. Raise your right hand and your left leg and hold for about 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat with your left hand and right leg. Do this about three times a day, every day.
The more weeks you have post surgery, the higher the number of repetitions for each exercise can be. You can up the number until the point you are comfortable with.
Remember: Even if you are fully recovered, incorporating core workouts in your daily life can be really helpful to prevent hernia! Also consider practicing pilates, as it encourages general strength and stability.
- Don’t push yourself. In time, you will be able to do more strenuous exercise, but it is important to focus on healing during the recovery period. Immediately after surgery, your wound is still healing and strenuous exercise can break your stitches. Have this also in mind for the performance of any housework – avoid carrying bags, moving furniture or extensive cleaning in the first weeks after surgery.
- Stop if you experience pain. If at any point during your routine you experience pain, stop exercising immediately. Your goal is to recover your strength while healing; pain during exercise is a sign that you are hurting yourself by pushing too far. Recalibrate your exercise routine to something lighter if this happens. Speak to your doctor to discuss how to do so.
- Look for a community. Immediately after surgery, motivation for exercise will be understandably low. You will want to do nothing. Having people going through the same thing to push you forward and to discuss your problems is great to help. There are many wonderful communities of ostomates who exercise. Through social media, you can find online communities to share and seek advice. You can also search for #activeostomates or #ostomyathletes to find others like you who are venturing into exercise after surgery.
- Get comfortable clothes. Like with exercising in general, comfortable clothing is a must when exercising. Especially for ostomates, comfortable clothes that don’t rub against the stoma and cause irritation during exercise are necessary. Either stretchable fitness legging or loose sport pants are the best solution. You can find great advice in each sports store close to you.
- Maintain a healthy diet. A healthy, balanced diet rich in minerals, vitamins, and protein needs to go hand-in-hand with exercise, especially for ostomates. For a detailed look at the right dietary plan for you, we have created a full article for people with a colostomy and ileostomy.
- Hydrate. Drink lots of fluids. When exercising, you are bound to lose water through sweat. This is especially so for people who have an ileostomy, as they get dehydrated more easily. Make sure you drink enough water before and after your ileostomy exercise program to stay hydrated.
- Don’t exercise right after a meal. It is not a good idea to exercise right after a meal. This will cause problems with digestion and could also make your bag fill up when you don’t want it to during exercise.
- Empty your pouch before exercise. If your bag does fill up, go empty it! Exercising with a full pouch can run a risk of leakage happening.
- Consider getting a personal trainer/ physical therapist. It can be very useful to have a personal trainer or an exercise physiologist experienced with working with ostomates to help you with your exercise regime. Make sure to talk to your doctor about your personal trainer so that both your doctor and your trainer are on the same page about what exercise is right for you. Alternatively, you can speak to your doctor about wanting to be referred to a physiologist. Your doctor should be able to connect you with someone who is experienced with ostomates.
- Consider getting an ostomy exercise belt. An ostomy exercise belt can be extremely useful when you are beginning exercise right after surgery, as it provides support to your body. Especially if you are planning to perform greater exercise and sports, a belt is a must-have item. However, the belt should not be used for regular wear as there is a danger of relying on it too much.
If swimming is your choice of exercise, With time and effort, you will be back on your feet (or in the water) doing everything you did before in no time!
As a final note: There is no reason why you shouldn’t have an active life with a stoma. Right after surgery, this may seem like a distant dream. But you will recover, and with the exercise routines and tips given above, your recovery period will be even shorter! People with a stoma can and have lived full lives, working, traveling, exercising, in short doing everything they did before their surgery. Soon, you will also be able to do all those things! Just keep working on rebuilding your core, and soon you will have rebuilt your life. In order to make sure that you perfectly keep your stoma hygienic, we recommend you to use Bioderm Stoma Plus – especially after doing exercises – and enjoy your workout.
Could you still not find the answer to your question? We have collected the most frequently asked questions related to exercising with a stoma:
Can you exercise with an ileostomy?
Patients are encouraged to do light walking immediately after an ileostomy surgery, while heavy lifting and strenuous core exercises are discouraged up to three months after an ileostomy. However, light core exercises and breathing exercises can be practiced in the early post-surgery days to regain core strength and shorten the recovery period.
Can you lift weights with a stoma?
After you are fully recovered from your ostomy surgery, you generally can lift weights with a stoma. Nevertheless, it is important to consult your doctor first. You must not go back to lifting weights for at least three months after your surgery. After that, it is crucial to start your exercise slowly to not overexert yourself. You may not be able to lift as much as you did before you had a stoma. However, every person is unique, and you may quickly find back to your previous self after you heal.
How much can I lift with a stoma? / how much weight can I lift with an ileostomy?
Within the first 12 weeks post surgery, you should avoid heavy lifting. Doctors often recommend that you restrict lifts to a maximum of 4.5 kilograms at the beginning. Any more can increase the risk of developing a hernia around your stoma. A support vest or a binder can be useful while lifting weights to give your core more support and to protect your stoma.
Will sweat affect my stoma?
Ostomy pouches today are designed to withstand daily exposure to moistures such as sweat, showers, and baths. Even with all of that, they can stay sealed on your skin for a few days, after which you would normally have to change your bag. However, the frequency of changes required depends on individual needs and the type of ostomy products used.
How to lose weight with an ostomy?
Portion control and a healthy, balanced diet go a long way in losing weight with an ostomy. While you may not be able to process raw fruits and vegetables, you can boil or steam the vegetables before eating. Try to have smaller, more frequent meals and continue to exercise while maintaining your diet.
Can you play sports with a stoma bag?
As long as you are cautious about not overexerting yourself, there is no reason why you cannot play sports with a stoma bag. If you play contact sports or ball sports such as rugby, football, or basketball, wear a support vest or a binder to make sure that your stoma is protected and your stoma bag is securely in place.
Can I run with an ostomy?
There is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to get back into running with an ostomy. Once you have healed from your surgery sufficiently, start slow and listen to what feels good for your body. Make sure to wear an ostomy belt or wrap to keep your pouch securely in place. Wear clothes that are comfortable and stay hydrated.