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Returning to The Gym After Stoma Surgery

Josh Hubbard is an inclusive exercise instructor at Therapy Gyms in Suffolk and explains below safe and effective exercise strategies for people returning to the gym after stoma surgery.

What is a stoma?

A stoma is an opening in the abdomen that can be connected to either the digestive or urinary systems to allow waste (urine or faeces) to be diverted from the body.

Having a stoma doesn’t mean you have to stop exercising, it simply means you can stay active with a bit of extra care.

After surgery, it’s important to consult with your stoma nurse or a specialist fitness consultant before resuming exercise.

Exercising After Stoma Surgery

Once things have healed somewhat and settled down, you can start exercising with very gentle exercise—just a little bit of walking and gentle movement to get things moving again.

After a few weeks, you can gradually start to increase activity levels.

Exercises like cycling and swimming can be good progressions, along with light, functional movements such as sitting to standing, pushing and pulling.

Before you try more intensive exercise, ensure you have had at least three months of recovery.

Once your consultant gives you the go-ahead, you can get back to training. If you are unsure about how to get started, it might be worth exercising with a fitness instructor or personal trainer who has added additional biomechanics and movement training, like the team at Therapy Gyms.

Going to the gym after stoma surgery

After speaking with your healthcare professional and deciding to return to the gym, be prepared for some new challenges and other factors to consider.

While some exercises might feel uncomfortable due to the nature of the condition, there are many ways to stay active without causing strain. Exercises involving a lot of twisting and rotating through the core, like abdominal crunches, sit-ups, and Russian twists, might not be the best choices. Instead, focus on activities that feel good and are gentle on your body. Always listen to your body and stop if you experience any pain.

You can also buy an ostomy exercise support belt if needed. These offer more protection and support in the abdominal region.

When you feel ready, you can begin incorporating activities like stretching. Exercises such as hip rolls, leg stretches, standing hamstring stretches, shoulder stretches, and hip stretches are great starting points.

How much can you lift with a stoma?

When you are ready for resistance training/weight lifting, you should start with light functional movements with little weight—less than 5kg (10 lbs). This will reduce the likelihood of complications and prevent things such as hernias, etc.

Light weights should be the focus for a while, until you have built up the progressions gradually over time.

Some examples of body weight and exercises using weights are shown in the videos below.

Body weight calf raises

Body weight press-ups on the wall

Body weight squats

Seated cable row single-hand

Seated cable row using both hands

Seated or standing light dumbbell movements such as lateral raises & shoulder presses

Once you’ve increased your strength and endurance, you can start to add further exercises to your routine. Please remember to always consult with a healthcare professional before returning to the gym after stoma surgery.