When to start exercising after a c-section - Legacy Physical Therapy
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When to start exercising after a c-section


Everyone’s c-section recovery journey is different. Returning to exercise after a c-section can seem like a daunting task to some and like it cannot come fast enough to others. In this article we are going to give you guidance on when and how to start exercising after a c-section. 

It may surprise some that you can actually start exercise immediately after a c-section. However, it is important to follow some basic guidelines.

Here are a few guidelines to consider as you start exercise:

  • Let pain be your guide
    Do not allow pain levels go up beyond 2-3 points from where your pain started. For example, if you are experiencing 2/10 pain in your incision prior to moving, do not allow that pain to go above 4 or 5/10 at most. If the pain does start to increase significantly, this could be a sign of over-doing it or that you need a break.
  • Remember the “talk test”
    When you are walking or moving, you should be able to carry on a conversation. If you’re feeling short of breath or cannot carry on a conversation, this could be a sign of working too hard or needing to rest.
  • Rate how hard you are working
    You can rate how hard you are working with a 0-10 scale called the Borg Scale. 0 is considered very easy like sitting and watching TV and 10 is working as hard as you can. You should be no higher than 4 on this scale (maybe 5).
  • Soreness
    Soreness or some muscle aches are “okay” but should be mild. If that soreness does not improve after 24-48 hours, that’s a sign you did too much.
  • Vaginal Bleeding
    Vaginal bleedingafter a c-section is normal, however, if you notice a large increase in vaginal bleeding with activity or exercise, this is a sign of doing too much and you should stop the exercise right away.
  • Limit Bending, Lifting, and Twisting
    At least for the first couple weeks after your c-section, avoid excessive bending, lifting, and twisting. Once your scar is healed (approximately 4-6 weeks out) you can start to add back in these movements.

Exercises to Start with After C-Section

Incorporating exercise after your c-section can help improve and even speed up recovery.  The exercises below will not put extra stress on your incision and should not cause more pain.

Our favorite exercise to start with after c-section is walking. Walking after a c-section can help prevent secondary complications like blood clots. We recommend starting with 5-10 minutes of walking, 2-3 times per day. Monitor how you feel after this walk and gradually add 5-10 minutes to your walking routine every week as you’re able.

When you are walking, try to practice standing tall. The tendency is to hunch over because standing tall will pull some on the c-section scar.

Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises after a c-section are crucial for many reasons, including improving oxygen delivery to muscles after surgery and helping with pain management. In addition, working on breathing exercises helps to start coordinating your diaphragm with your pelvic floor.

Start in a relaxed position, we usually recommend seated or laying down. Take 5 to 10 big, slow deep breaths in and out. You may feel some stretching in your c-section scar with these big breaths, but it should not be painful.

Pelvic Tilts
Pelvic tilts can be done laying in your bed after your c-section. Lay on your back with knees bent. Gently press your low back into the bed and hold for 5 seconds, then relax and slowly rock the pelvis forward after this. Do 5-10 reps at a time in a comfortable range.

Shoulder blade squeezes
After a c-section, moms spend a large amount of time bending and hunching forward. This is rough on the upper back. Squeezing the shoulder blades can help improve posture and upper back strength. This is important to start to rebuild strength and improve posture postpartum.

Deep Core Activation
Starting to activate the deep core muscles helps set a foundation of strength to support your back and pelvis as you recover. In a supported position, inhale then exhale and gently draw in the abdominals and pelvic floor muscles. Hold for a few seconds, then relax.

While you can start moving immediately after a c-section (or within hours), there are some exercises that are better to save for later down the road.

Those exercises include:

  • Jumping exercises
  • HIIT Workouts
  • Running
  • Twisting core exercises
  • Heavy weight lifting
  • Sit-ups, V-ups, crunches

Red Flags for Exercise after C-Section

At any point after a c-section, watch out for these red flags. Call your healthcare provider if you start to experience any of the below symptoms:

  • Fever over 100.4
  • Very heavy vaginal bleeding or large clots
  • Shortness of breath that does not improve with rest
  • Leg swelling
  • Headache that does not improve with over the counter medications
  • Pus or drainage from your incision that is green/yellow or has a foul odor

Exercise after c-section does not have to be intimidating. You know your body best, so listen to your body as you move through recovery.

Are you wanting more guidance for your c-section recovery?  The expert pelvic physical therapists at Legacy Physical Therapy are ready to partner with you to help your postpartum recovery journey.

You might be wondering if this is the right step for you, or you may have doubts about whether anything can change.

That’s why we provide the option to talk with a physical therapist over the phone. We’re here to listen, to understand, and to discuss a personalized recovery plan that addresses your unique needs.

Contact us at Legacy Physical Therapy at (636) 225-3649 and let us guide you on your c-section recovery.