Life after pelvic organ prolapse surgery: a guide to recovery

Jo Lang Jo Lang Specialist Physiotherapist in Pelvic Health
Not sure what to expect after pelvic organ prolapse surgery? Jo Lang, National Lead for Pelvic Health Physiotherapy at Nuffield Health, explains what happens after surgery and shares her tips for a healthy recovery.

What is pelvic organ prolapse surgery?

Perhaps you’ve had a pelvic organ prolapse, and non-surgical treatments aren’t helping? Or maybe your prolapse is more severe? If so, your surgeon may recommend, pelvic organ prolapse surgery.

This surgery involves lifting the pelvic organs, such as the bladder, bowel and uterus, and stitching the tissues around them to give you more support.

After pelvic organ prolapse surgery

What happens after pelvic organ prolapse surgery?

A nurse will take you back to the ward to look after you and give you painkillers to relieve any discomfort. You may have a drip in your arm and a catheter in your bladder - a nurse will usually remove these after 24 hours.

You may also experience some vaginal bleeding (like a period) or discharge. Gauze may be placed inside your vagina to act as a bandage for the first 24 hours, which can be slightly uncomfortable. You’ll also need to wear sanitary pads for a few days or weeks.

When can I go home after pelvic organ prolapse surgery?

You’ll usually need to stay in hospital overnight or for a few days. Most women can go home once their bladder is emptying well.

In rare cases, you may need a catheter for a week or so. You’ll still be able to go home, but you’ll need to come back in a week or two to have the catheter removed.

You won’t be able to drive until your doctor agrees, so you’ll need someone to take you home from hospital.

What complications can be caused by pelvic organ prolapse surgery?

Most women make a healthy recovery from pelvic organ prolapse surgery. Complications are rare but can happen.

Speak to your doctor as soon as possible if you have severe pain or bleeding, unusual discharge, a high temperature, or stinging or burning sensations when you pass urine.

Recovery from pelvic organ prolapse surgery

How long does it take to recover from pelvic organ prolapse surgery?

It depends on the type of surgery you have. If you have open surgery, it can take 4 - 6 weeks to heal. If you have keyhole surgery, it may only take 1 - 2 weeks to recover.

Remember, recovery times are unique to every woman, so try not to compare your recovery to anyone else’s.

How can I aid my recovery from pelvic organ prolapse surgery?

Listen to your body throughout the healing process. These tips may help you in the early weeks:

  • If you feel any discomfort, you can keep taking over-the-counter pain relief
  • Rest when you need to - on busy days sit or lie down every few hours
  • You can shower but wait a week before you have a bath and gently pat the incision dry
  • Use sanitary pads if needed - any bleeding should stop within four weeks
  • Wear loose clothing that doesn’t put pressure on your belly for a few weeks
  • Don’t be alarmed if you find knots from the stitches in your underwear - your stitches usually dissolve within a few weeks but can take up to three months
  • Your doctor may advise you to use vaginal oestrogen cream or tablets for a few weeks after surgery
  • Some women experience uncomfortable bloating - light exercises (see below) and gently massaging your belly in a clockwise motion can help.

Diet

Constipation is not uncommon after surgery, so make sure you drink plenty of water (between 1.5L - 2 litres of fluids a day) and eat lots of fruit and vegetables.

Try to avoid getting constipated and straining when you empty your bowels as this can put pressure on your pelvic area. If you haven’t had a bowel movement for a few days tell your doctor, who will be able to give you laxatives.

Exercising

Doing gentle exercise can reduce any discomfort and swelling, as well as rebuild your strength:

  • Try short walks every day, slowly increasing the distance to improve your stamina
  • For guidance on exercise in the first few weeks, take a look at this information
  • After six weeks, you can return to low-impact exercise. Using a cross trainer, cycling, swimming, gentle Pilates and yoga are all good options. Speak to one of our specialist pelvic health physiotherapists if you’d like individual support or advice
  • Some women may need to avoid high-impact exercises in the long-term - your doctor or physiotherapist can advise you on this.

Mental health

Remember to take care of your emotional wellbeing. Recovering from surgery and readjusting to everyday life can take a toll on your mood. Be kind to yourself and seek support from family and friends, your GP or our mental health support services if you need to.

What should I avoid after pelvic prolapse surgery?

There’s a few things you should steer clear of while you’re still healing:

  • Limit tea, coffee and alcohol as these can make you urinate more often
  • Steer clear of strenuous tasks, standing still for long periods and lifting anything heavier than half a kettle of water - some surgeons may advise avoiding heavy lifting in the long-term, too
  • Avoid smoking, as a ‘smoker’s cough’ can strain your pelvic floor muscles
  • Restrict weight gain as this can put pressure on your pelvic region
  • Hold off from sex until you’ve healed completely (usually 4 - 6 weeks). Even when you’re ready, sex may cause a little discomfort. A specialist pelvic health physiotherapist can recommend vaginal lubricants and positions for reducing pain.

When can I go back to work after pelvic organ prolapse surgery?

It depends on what kind of surgery you’ve had, how you feel, and what type of job you do.

If you work in an office, you can go back after about three weeks. If your job is more strenuous, it could take up to 12 weeks. Your doctor will advise you and provide a ‘Fit for work’ certificate.

When do I need to go for a check-up?

You’ll need to see your surgeon for a follow-up appointment six weeks after pelvic organ prolapse surgery to make sure you’re recovering well.

If you have any questions or concerns, or you need support before then, contact the hospital to speak to a nurse. They’ll arrange an appointment with your consultant or GP if needed.

Pelvic prolapse exercises

Here are two exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles after surgery: 
To prepare, imagine you’re trying to stop yourself passing wind and tighten these muscles. 
At the same time, imagine you’re trying to stop yourself passing urine and tighten these muscles. Keep your bum and tummy muscles relaxed and don’t hold your breath. 

Exercise one:
 Hold the squeeze for a few seconds then relax for a few seconds. Gradually increase until you can hold for up to 10 seconds and repeat 10 times.

Exercise two: Tighten the pelvic floor muscles quickly and firmly, then relax. Do this up to 10 times.

Try to do these exercises at least once a day.

In summary

Most women recover well and feel significantly better after surgery, allowing them to get back to their day-to-day routine. Every woman’s experience of pelvic organ prolapse surgery is different. Listen to your body, take your time, and don’t put yourself under pressure during the healing process.

If you’d like individual advice, we have a network of over 40 physiotherapists specialising in pelvic health who can support you during your recovery. Please speak to your local hospital to find out more or call our physiotherapy team on 0345 045 4845 to find a specialist in your area.

Last updated Tuesday 10 March 2020