What about Exercise after Surgery?

As regular readers know, I had Mohs Surgery for skin cancer on my face this week.

I am now cancer-free, but have a slightly longer than one inch incision on my cheek with more than a dozen stitches in it that needs to heal. I will go back in a week to have the stitches removed.

So what about exercising? For the most part I ride my bike every day that I can here in Chicago. But, I am recovering from a surgical wound on my face. What to do? Not to ride is really unappealing.

When I asked the nurse she said no biking for five days. I also had to cancel a dentist appointment for the next day because she feared I would pop a stitch in the dentist’s chair. Fair enough, I certainly don’t want to reopen the wound, but it seems to me that cycling doesn’t threaten it much. I asked the doctor and he said ‘a couple of days.’ I thought I could live with that especially since I was counting the day of the surgery as day one.

When I returned home, I took it easy the rest of the day. I limited my exercise to a couple of walks with my dog. Despite this lack of demands on my body, I went to bed early and slept like a log. I felt rested the next morning, but determined to be a good patient and take it easy. After breakfast and a dog walk, I hopped in my car and drove 15 miles to the riverboat for some video poker. That certainly isn’t taxing on the body.  (Luckily this session wasn’t taxing on my wallet either.) I played for several hours then returned home and fixed a nice lunch. After a second dog walk, I sat down on the couch to read. I just bought Poison Flower the latest novel by Thomas Perry. I am a big fan of Jane Whitefield, his recurring American Indian heroine. If you enjoy a thoughtful thriller with a strong main character, check these out.

Here’s the interesting thing, after reading for 30 minutes or so, I felt tired. As far as I could see I had done nothing to achieve this condition, but I know ‘the nap feeling’ very well. I closed the book and lay down in bed. I woke up 90 minutes later. As an old retired guy I nap a couple of times a week, but it is usually after a taxing bike ride. And, it rarely lasts over 40 minutes.

I think that need for a nap was an interesting testimony to the fact that my body was busy recovering from the surgery. I felt glad that I had followed doctor’s orders and hadn’t pushed the bike riding. Clearly my body wasn’t ready to be taxed in any external way.

I cooled out the rest of the day and went to bed around 9:00 p.m., my usual bed time. I had successfully completed two full days without making big demands on my body. I felt like I was being a good patient.

The next morning I awoke feeling refreshed and ready to get some cycling in. I had now put 48 hours of healing between me and my surgery. The weather was good for riding, about 70F and not too windy. I breakfasted, walked poochie and set off on the bike. I was determined to ride, but not at a full pace and not more than 15 miles, just over an hour at my speed. I thought that would be a good way to ease my body back into the flow of riding.

It is interesting that on my ride, I encountered more than the usual number of friends and acquaintances. I stopped to chat several times for at least five minutes. That added to the downtime of the ride and reduced any strain on my body. Maybe somebody up there was making sure I didn’t overdo it.

I pulled in to my building with just over 14 miles. Enough.

I cooled out the rest of the day and made big progress reading Poison Flower, another winner from Thomas Perry.

About this time I was checking over the sheets of medical info I had received from the doctor and came across some interesting statements about exercise and wound healing. Here are a couple of them which may help you in a similar situation. Drinking alcohol should be avoided as it affects your body’s blood clotting and may contribute to prolonged or increased post operative bleeding. No biggie for me as I have maybe one beer in a month.

Strenuous exercise should be avoided as it raises your blood pressure and bending and lifting weights causes your muscles to pull. Both can interfere with wound healing.

Don’t smoke. Smoking reduces the blood supply to healing stitch lines and drastically worsens the final appearance. I am blown away by all the bad things smoking does to us, BESIDES the threat of lung cancer. I just don’t see how anyone able to read is still doing it. Please check out my Page How Bad is Smoking? for more.

Elsewhere on the web, the Livestrong site said, “Stitches help close a wound and encourage proper healing. If you have recently received stitches, the first one or two days are critical for your wound healing properly.” I felt even better about being a good patient the first two days after reading this.

The Fitsugar.com site said, “On the first few days following surgery, the most important recovery exercise is a walking routine. Patients who get back on their feet early have been shown to have quicker recoveries and fewer complications than patients who remain in bed.”

On Friday, the third day after my surgery, I again followed a curtailed ride schedule and logged just under 20 miles. I plan to adhere to that for the next week. I am working on being a good patient, but the bike rider in me feels like stretching out. I think in this situation that discretion is the best course.

So far; so good.



Filed under Exercise, healing

4 responses to “What about Exercise after Surgery?

  1. Eileen

    Tony I can’t believe this but I had the exact surgery on my face the week before you did. My doctor was much stricter then yours no activity for a week and I was more then happy to take him up on it as a matter of fact it has been a week and a day for me and got my stitches out yesturday and I have been super tired. Wondering what my scar will look like. I am forcing myself to get back to excercising tomorrow I am getting to complacent. Going to work was about all I was able to handle. Happy healing Eileen (Caroline and John’s Friend)


    • HI, Eileen –

      Nice to hear from you despite the circumstances. Amazing coincidence that we had the same surgery a week apart. Possibly you had more of a ‘dig out’ than I did. I had to go back one time after the first cutting, so I was cut twice. My wound extends about 1.25 inches and is swollen. One of the things I am doing is eating a lot of canary melon. There is Vitamin C as well as collagen in canary melons which are both very good for healing. You might check that out.

      BTW, if you talk about it, are you not knocked out by how many people have directly had the surgery or have a family member or loved one who has had it? I can’t get over how widespread skin cancer is.



  2. Kimberly

    Hi Tony, I know this is very old post so not sure if you are still checking the site but I came across your post as I was googling exercise after MOHs surgery. I am scheduled to have some skin cancer removed next week at Northwestern (I am also in Chicago:) and it was reassuring for me to read about your experience as I am a bit nervous about the whole thing. I felt anxious about the “not exercising” part of the aftercare so it was helpful to read about how you navigated that. Hope you are well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks very much for your comment, Kimberly.Two things, first of all, I am in my late 70’s, so the operation may have taken more out of me, than you if you are much younger. Second, I want to ride my bike every day of the year and only horrendous weather or medical reasons keep me off it. I think I was very low energy the first week after. Hope that helps. Best of luck with yours.


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