Help increase screening and prevention for colon & rectal cancer.


Ask the Trainer: Exercise After Abdominal Surgery

We received this question through our Facebook page and sent it to one of our fitness experts for her opinion.  Remember, before you try any new exercise regimen you should talk with your physician.

Do you have any tips for getting your abdominal area back in shape after surgery? It’s been 6 months and I can’t seem to get the strength back. When I do crunches it feels like it pulls where my main incision was and it hurts in a stingy kind of pain and I can’t do many at all. Thanks!

Dana Neve, personal trainer:

First of all, make sure you have clearance from your doctor for exercise.  The advice I am giving is fitness advice, not medical.

I have had the same issues with stomach incisions and understand that “stingy” pain.  There are several reasons for that.  Sometimes scar tissue can restrict the movement of nerves that can cause inflammation which causes the pain. Also, the skin in that area becomes tight which can cause that pulling feeling with certain movements. Gently massaging the scar is usually recommended, but again, talk to your doctor first.

The key to firming and toning muscles is to make exercise a habit.  It must be a part of your daily life. And you cannot get the results you want without proper nutrition. The most important thing to remember is that 20% is exercise and 80% is nutrition. Abdominal exercises are great for toning up your muscles but don’t do much for the body fat that is covering them up. To get your abdominals back in shape you should have a fitness routine that includes cardio and resistance training.  You can get toned, even ripped, abs without doing a single crunch! Always keep your core tight no matter what exercise you are doing.  I am a big fan of plyometric training and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) to get your entire body into shape.


Dana Neve

Dana Neve is a New Orleans native living in the Twin Cities for the past eighteen years with her husband and two teenage daughters.  She is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, runner, fitness coach, motivator, speaker, avid spectator of her kids’ sports, and has been a guest speaker on the radio.  Fitness has always been a part of her life, but it wasn’t until 2000 that she became passionate about it.  After being diagnosed with fibromyalgia and having a negative reaction to the medication prescribed, she decided to control the symptoms with exercise and proper nutrition.  The results were life changing and it has become her mission to help others lead longer, healthier, and more fulfilling lives through fitness and nutrition.  She coaches people around the country developing nutrition plans and recommending workout programs for her clients, while motivating and supporting them along the way. She is dedicated to helping people achieve their goals and would love to help you too.


To learn more from Dana, connect with her on Twitter, herFacebook page, or email her.


Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • marlon barrow says:

    hello . four years ago, I contracted stage 3 colon cancer. Thank goodness I caught it before it went to stage 4. But after the surgery there were many complications and my entire stay at the hospital added up to five months. Before all of this, I was a body builder and was in great shape, but due to the complications, my abdomen had to be opened twice. Lying on my back for 5 months caused great muscle loss and strength, especially my abs. After returning home after recovery, I tried to get back in shape by using the ab roller. I started slow, as not to injure myself. But it happened anyway. I felt a slight pop followed by a growing bulge in the upper part of my abdomen. Went to the doctor and found out it was a hernia. The doctor suggested surgery. But we both agreed that because of what I had just gone through previously, it would be best to wait. And wait I did, for 2 years. In the meanwhile, I wore an abdomenal binder, and lifted no weights at all which led to greater muscle loss and strength. Then I finally decided that it was time for the hernia surgery. And again there were complications, and again I was in the hospital for an extended stay, this time only 5 weeks still longer than I wanted to be there. After all this recovery and down time, I’ve decided to try and get back in shape. But I find that working my abs are painful, it’s like having a Charley Horse in my abs constantly. Is there any one who has gone through this, knows what steps to take without re-injuring myself , or any who trains with people in my perdicament. Thank you.

    • Sarah DeBord says:

      Hi Marlon, rehabilitation and recovery can be a tricky road for anyone who has gone through the surgeries required for colorectal cancer. We highly recommend you speak to you doctor about rehabilitation therapy with a physical or occupational therapist. – Sarah DeBord

    • Gordo says:

      Hey Marlon, I had surgery for gallbladder removal, and ever since then, ab workouts are problematic, and its been a couple YEARS now sadly. From reading, I think it has something to do with damaged nerves maybe? I don’t know if that’s really it though, I also had a massive, insanely painful Charley Horse like you describe, while working out my abs sometime in the months after the surgery. If I try to do too much, I feel that same type of pain starting to come on, and I just have to stop. I’m at the point where I’m sort of just accepting that I can’t do hard ab workouts anymore. Its not the end of the world though, light workouts are OK, and its still possible to have 6 pack abs.

  • Eric Krebs says:

    Not sure I would be able to do sensibly do HIT after my Ostomphy reversal surgery. I’m much more comfortable taking to slow and consistent idea of movement. I’ll start with that and perhaps graduate to HIT 🙂 but probably not,,,

  • mohib ali says:

    I had a bowel operation 8 years ago. I’m getting out of shape. Can I go to the gym?

    • Erin Peterson says:

      Hi, you should absolutely be able to restart a fitness regimen, but if you are worried about your incision site or other side effects, etc., please talk to your provider!

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