Sports play a big part in many people’s day-to-day lives, so it is no wonder that many of our patients ask our consultants how soon they can return to exercise after laser eye surgery. Naturally, they want to get back into their usual routine, keep active, have fun, and enjoy the benefits of their newly restored vision – and who can blame them?
However, your eyes are incredibly precious, so it’s best to give them the correct time to heal before returning to some of your usual activities. It is simply not worth taking the risk, and potentially jeopardising the results of your treatment.
How Soon Can I Exercise After Laser Eye Surgery?
Due to the huge list of sports, exercises, and activities that we all enjoy and the diversity of each one, there is no single answer to this question. Plus, the recommended time may differ depending on what type of laser eye surgery you have had.
If you have had LASIK surgery, in which a flap is created during the procedure, then returning to sports or exercise after LASIK could put you at risk of flap complications. Even something as innocent as wiping sweat out of your eye can cause these kinds of complications, so you must wait the full length of time advised by your consultant.
Other laser eye treatments, such as SMILE, can have a shorter waiting time before returning to sports and exercise after surgery. However, the type of sport or activity must be taken into consideration.
LASEK requires a minimum of a week for recovery time; therefore, returning to sports for this procedure will be a bit longer than SMILE.
The key reasons why it takes longer to return to exercise for LASIK patients are typically:
LASIK involves creating a thin flap in the cornea, which is lifted to allow the laser to reshape the underlying corneal tissue. After the procedure, the flap is repositioned and takes time to heal. Those who play contact sports such as boxing and do not intend to stop after surgery do not make suitable candidates for LASIK but are more suited to other LASER treatments such as SMILE.
LASEK does not involve creating a flap. Instead, the outer layer of the cornea (the epithelium) is treated with alcohol, loosened, and moved aside. After the laser reshaping, the epithelium is removed or repositioned. Since there’s no corneal flap, the cornea’s structural integrity is less compromised, reducing the risk of complications from physical activities post-surgery.
SMILE, a minimally invasive procedure, involves creating a small, lenticular-shaped piece of corneal tissue and removing it through a small incision, reshaping the cornea without creating a large flap. This results in less biomechanical disruption to the cornea’s surface, allowing for a quicker recovery and reducing the vulnerability of the eye to physical activities.
The absence of a large corneal flap in LASEK and SMILE means less concern about flap displacement or complications arising from physical activities post-surgery. This quicker stabilisation of the corneal surface allows for a shorter break from exercise and other vigorous activities.
Risk of Complications
LASIK’s flap creation increases the risk of complications such as flap dislocation if the eye is subjected to trauma or significant pressure changes soon after surgery. LASEK and SMILE, by avoiding or minimizing flap-related issues, naturally allow for a quicker return to such activities without the same level of risk.
Postoperative Care and Restrictions
LASEK and SMILE patients typically experience less concern regarding the impact of physical activity on their surgical outcomes, allowing for a more lenient postoperative activity guideline. However, LASIK patients must be more cautious to ensure the corneal flap heals properly.
After 24 Hours
The first 24 hours following laser eye surgery are critical for the healing and recovery process, and refraining from exercise during this period is advised due to the following factors:
Minimizing the Risk of Complications: Exercise increases blood flow and can lead to elevated blood pressure, potentially causing additional stress on the eyes. This can increase the risk of bleeding or swelling in the operated area, leading to complications in the healing process.
Preventing Accidental Trauma: Physical activities can expose the eyes to accidental bumps, jolts, or trauma, which is particularly risky when the eye is in a vulnerable state post-surgery. Even mild trauma can affect the surgical outcomes, displace the corneal flap in the case of LASIK, or introduce bacteria, leading to infections.
Reducing the Chance of Increased Intraocular Pressure: Strenuous exercises, especially those involving lifting, bending, or straining, can temporarily increase intraocular pressure (IOP). An increase in IOP shortly after surgery could harm the healing eye, affecting the surgical outcome.
Healing Phase and Need for Rest
Immediate Healing Process: The cornea begins to heal after laser eye surgery. In procedures like LASIK, the corneal flap needs to adhere properly to the underlying stroma, a process that can be disturbed by vigorous activities. In LASEK and SMILE, where the cornea’s structural integrity is less compromised, the outer layers still need time to heal properly without being subjected to stress or strain.
Rest is Crucial: Resting after surgery not only aids in the physical healing of the eyes but also helps in recovery from the effects of sedation or anesthesia used during the procedure. Adequate rest helps in reducing inflammation and supports faster recovery of visual acuity.
Avoidance of Dry Eyes: Exercise can contribute to the evaporation of tears, leading to dry eyes, a common side effect of post-laser eye surgery. In the early stages of recovery, it’s essential to maintain optimal moisture levels in the eyes to promote healing, and avoiding exercise helps manage this condition.
Avoidance of sweat in eyes: When we exercise, our body produces sweat, which helps us cool down. This sweat can drip into the eyes from the forehead, potentially increasing the risk of infection.
After One Week
For those wondering about yoga after laser eye surgery, you can continue with yoga and Pilates one week after having treatment. You can also resume light jogging.
If you have had LASIK surgery, you should still be wary not to push yourself too hard and be careful to wipe sweat away from your eyes.
While the initial healing phase has passed after the first week, and many patients start to see significant improvements in their vision, caution is still necessary when exercising. Although the corneal flap created during LASIK adheres quickly, it is still healing. The reasons for exercising caution involve protecting the eye’s structural integrity and ensuring the best possible outcome from the surgery.
After two to four weeks
After two weeks, you can return to lifting light weights in the gym, regardless of whether you’ve had a LASIK, LASEK, or SMILE procedure. The gym machines are typically on low settings, although this can be increased to heavy, free weights after four weeks.
For SMILE eye surgery, you can also begin swimming after laser eye e, although it is highly recommended that you wear protective goggles. It is also safe to return to saunas and steam rooms. By this time, your eyes will be healed enough that the steamy conditions will not agitate them.
If you have had LASEK or SMILE surgery, you can return to playing badminton, basketball, cricket, football, skiing, snowboarding, squash, and tennis after four weeks of recovery.
After six weeks
If you are recovering from LASEK or SMILE surgery, you can resume boxing, martial arts, and rugby six weeks after surgery.
If you are recovering from LASIK surgery, then you can begin playing badminton, basketball, cricket, football, squash, and tennis, as well as skiing and snowboarding, at this point.
After twelve weeks
You can return to all sporting activities for SMILE and LASEK at this stage. LASIK patients SHOULD NOT participate in activities that are subject to high levels of trauma, such as martial arts, as this can cause FLAP dislocation.
Speak to your consultant
At Optegra, you will be assigned your world-class surgeon, who will take charge of your procedure from the first consultancy meeting to the treatment and aftercare appointments. Your consultant will tailor your eye care treatment to your physical needs and lifestyle, so they will be the best person to inform you about what you can and cannot do during laser eye surgery recovery.
If you have any questions about doing sports after your surgery, you must bring them up with your consultant, who can give advice based on your circumstances.
Even after reading this, you may still have many questions about laser eye surgery and recovery. If this is you, why not book a no-obligation consultation to get one-to-one advice on treatment options from one of our specialists?
By Author: Alex J Shortt
Mr Shortt is a leading ophthalmic surgeon and an expert in the fields of cornea, cataract and refractive surgery.
Medically Reviewed Date: 13th February 2024