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How to Exercise with Lichen Sclerosus, Pt.1

How to Exercise with Lichen Sclerosus, Pt.1

Introduction

Thus far, I’ve written an awful lot about painful sex and dilators. I want to take a step back and draw attention to some other areas of your life that may be impacted by Lichen Sclerosus. (Do not worry, I have so much more to write about on the subject of dilators and sex; this topic will make a return). This post discusses how Lichen Sclerosus affected my exercise routine and my ability to work out. This will be a two-part blog piece. I began by describing my exercise routine until the point where I received a diagnosis and how I reacted afterward. In my next post, I explain what I learned about exercise and Lichen Sclerosus, and how I brought back one of the things I love most: exercise.

Don’t forget to read until the end for this post’s #TLLCTuesdayTip!

Life Before a Lichen Sclerosus Diagnosis

Weightlifting: My Main Passion

Image of four shots of me flexing my back muscles. Weightlifting was my primary form of exercise and I loved to work my back.

Before my Lichen Sclerosus Diagnosis, I was very physically active. I was an avid weightlifter and could be found at the gym five-six days a week. Of course, some of my goals were aesthetic. For example, I wanted to grow bigger lats, biceps, and glutes.

However, achieving aesthetic goals wasn’t my main reason for weightlifting. Instead, my primary motivation for hitting the weights was to manage stress, maintain overall health, and, most importantly, because it brought me joy. Yes, I know, to some the notion of going to work out at a gym seems unappealing, but I loved it. Exercise wasn’t a chore for me, it was my passion.

Yoga and Pilates

And I wasn’t only into weightlifting. I was also into yoga and Pilates. I would do a hot yoga or Pilates class 2-3 times a week in addition to weightlifting at the gym. This was a way for me to work on my stabilizer muscles and increase flexibility. Again, exercise in this form wasn’t a chore, it brought me peace and joy. I found a great improvement in my mental health when I was able to practice regularly. 

General Exercise

Finally, I also enjoyed exercises such as hiking, walking, climbing stairs, swimming, and HIIT for cardiovascular health and overall wellbeing. Before or after weightlifting, I would often do a HIIT workout or 15 minutes on the stair master. Further, I would walk almost every day, with my step-count ranging from 5000-12000 steps a day. Suffice it to say, I led an incredibly active lifestyle, and exercise was a form of stress management and joy for me.

Image of person doing exercise outdoors on a flight of stairs.

How Lichen Sclerosus Symptoms Impacted Exercise Before a Diagnosis

As you may have read in my diagnosis story (read here), I began experiencing symptoms in my early 20’s, with the symptoms growing in intensity over the years. The last year or so leading up to my diagnosis, these symptoms began to impact my ability to exercise. Furthermore, they impacted my ability to enjoy exercise.

For example, I had tears and fissures on my vulva. If you’ve experienced this yourself, you know how extremely painful these can be on their own. Thus, when I would perform leg exercises such as the seated adductor/abductor movement, where your legs spread open and closed, you can imagine how much extra pain/discomfort this would cause. Unbeknownst to me at the time, because I didn’t know I was tearing, I was properly tearing myself more and aggravating the fissures.

Another example would be HIIT workouts that involved sprinting and jumping; the friction from these exercises caused a lot of discomfort.

I felt confused and betrayed by my body; I didn’t understand what was going on or why my body was preventing me from enjoying exercise like I used to.

The Breaking Point

I found myself growing increasingly frustrated, especially in hot yoga. For those who aren’t familiar, hot yoga is where you practice yoga poses/exercises in a hot and humid studio room; the result of this is considerably more sweating than you would if you were to practice at room temperature. Again, you can imagine how stretching the hips/groin/legs whilst sweating heavily would irritate a vulva full of tears/fissures. One time, towards the end of a class, we were lying in meditation. Despite being completely still on the mat, my vulva was burning and stinging me; it felt like my vulva was full of paper cuts and someone was randomly throwing rubbing alcohol at them. In the dimly lit yoga studio, tears poured down my face in meditation.

“What is happening to me”?
“Something has to be wrong; this cannot be all in my head”.

What was once a source of peace and joy was turning into discomfort, pain, and major distress.

Giving up Exercise After my Diagnosis

I started exercising less and less as the discomfort and pain intensified. After my diagnosis, I stopped exercising altogether. This wasn’t simply because exercising exacerbated my pain, but because I actually didn’t think I was allowed to exercise. I assumed friction, sweating, etc., would only make the pain/irritation worse, and people with Lichen Sclerosus needed to live a more sedentary life. 

Critically, when my GP diagnosed me, she didn’t tell me I could not exercise. However, she also didn’t say I could either. I wasn’t told anything lifestyle-related. I had no idea what clothes I could and could not wear, what soap I should wash with, if I could exercise, if I could have sex, if I could take baths, etc. Accordingly, I pretty stopped everything. I stopped having sex, exercising, wearing pants/underwear, taking baths, etc. At the time, I couldn’t find any information about Lichen Sclerosus and lifestyle, so I made assumptions about what I could and could not do. Thus, I cut out a lot of things that brought me joy after my diagnosis. 

Conclusion

To conclude, I stopped most of the exercise I loved after being officially diagnosed with Lichen Sclerosus. This is a shame because exercise was not only a form of stress management and self-love/self-care, but it made me happy; it was my passion. Luckily, this didn’t last forever. In time, I learned more about Lichen Sclerosus and what was good and safe for my body. Stay tuned for my next post to read about what I learned concerning exercise and Lichen Sclerosus – there is an upside to this!

Get In Touch with Me; Share Your Thoughts!

Has Lichen Sclerosus impacted the way you exercise? What are things you stopped doing after getting diagnosed with Lichen Sclerosus? Let me know in the comments below or feel free to contact me via social media. I would love to hear from you!

Instagram: @thelostlabiachronicles

Facebook: @TheLostLabiaChronicles

Email: lostlabiachronicles@gmail.com or lostlabia@lssupport.net

#TLLCTuesdayTip: Make a list of lifestyle-related questions and bring them to your health care provider or send them my way (I'll do my best to get you answers).

By Jaclyn

I am the author of The Lost Labia Chronicles, a blog about Lichen Sclerosus, Sex, and Mental Health. I was diagnosed with Lichen Sclerosus in 2019 but had been symptomatic for over a decade. My mission is to provide support and hope to others with Lichen Sclerosus.

2 Comments

  • hannah2082

    Awww love you. Not that I ever exercised as much as you but I stopped all exercise before I was diagnosed because of the pain. Since the steroid ointment has improved my symptoms I have gone back to yoga and have started doing the Joe Wicks workouts again building up from the lowest levels. I really want to start walking again but that has been the thing that has caused the most pain so I am still worried about that one x

    • Jaclyn

      I hear you. Walking was a challenge for me too in the beginning. Both mentally and physically. Hopefully the next post with provide you with some ideas for how to slowly ease back into it <3

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