Top 9 Recommended Exercises During Mastectomy Recovery

If you have undergone mastectomy (breast surgery), it is common to experience pain and stiffness in your arm. The stiffness may also affect your shoulder and make movement difficult. You could also lose feeling in the affected arm. But exercises can help you regain feeling and arm movement in due course. Be gentle when exercising; otherwise you may worsen the condition of your arm. In this regard, avoid lifting heavy items unless your doctor is satisfied that you have recovered sufficiently.

Post Mastectomy Exercises

Level 1 Exercises

These are designed to increase the range of motion of your shoulder and arm so as to improve blood circulation.

1. Shoulder Roll

Bring your shoulder upwards, towards the ear, and then roll it in a backward direction.  Repeat for up to 4 times.

2. Elbow Stretch

Bend your arm at the elbow until you touch your shoulder with the fingers. Straighten your arm. Repeat for up to 4 times.

3. Wrist Exercise

Place a pillow on a table and rest your elbow and forearm on it. Lift and lower your hand from the wrist for 4 times.

4. Hand Squeeze

Form a fist; squeeze gently, and then release. Repeat for up to 4 times.

Level 2 Exercises

These will help strengthen the arm, ease tightness in the chest and shoulder, and help regain range of motion.

5. Arm Stretch

Hold your hands in a clasp in front of the chest, with elbows by your sides. Gently straighten the arms forwards as far as you can. As you pull back your arms back, also pull back the shoulder blades.

6. Arm Lift

While still clasping your hands, lift the arms upwards and over the head. Gently lower the hands to hip level. Make the movement as fluid as possible, getting your hands over your head according to your comfort level. You can also do this and similar level 2 post mastectomy exercises while lying down on your back.

7. Hands on Head

With clasped hands, lift them and place them on the top of your head. Gently bring the elbows together, and then pull them apart and backwards. Hold the pose for up to 10 seconds. You may find it easier to do this exercise while lying on your bed.

8. Hands Behind the Neck

Bring your clasped hands behind the neck and stretch elbows backwards. Hold the pose for up to 10 seconds, keeping your head and spine straight.

9.  Wall Crawl

Stand with your toes at about 8-10 inches from a wall and place both palms on the wall. Using your fingers, crawl as far up the wall as you can. Bring the palms down, making sure to mark the highest point so you can monitor your progress going forward.

You can also hold your palms high up the wall for 10-20 seconds. This will help stretch scar tissues and improve drainage.

Guidelines on Exercising After Mastectomy

  • Before you commence post mastectomy exercises, talk to your doctor to ensure that your body is ready for it. You should also ask for the guidance of a doctor or physiotherapist on any exercise that you are not sure of.
  • In case your chest or arm hurts or swells, discontinue exercising and contact your doctor for assistance.
  • Remember to put on loose-fitting garments when exercising. And keep your arm active by using it in daily activities like making your hair and brushing your teeth.

When to Call for Help

While recovering, watch out for any changes and consult your doctor in case of the following:

  • You experience pain when exercising or are unable to do the exercises.
  • There is build up of fluid in the arm.
  • Any swelling of your arm, chest or armpit.

Other Kinds of Exercise

Aerobic exercises are also important for women recovering from breast cancer. Studies indicate that shedding some weight and maintaining fitness can lower the risk of recurrence of some cancers. Talk to your doctor about recommended workouts during the treatment period and post mastectomy exercises.

You should also do other exercises to reduce the risk of swelling in your arm. Most of the recommended exercises are meant to help you regain normal range of motion of your shoulder and arm. Talk to the doctor about the risk of lymphedema, and the recommended exercises to lower the risk.

In addition to these post operative exercises, it is recommended that you exercise regularly in a bid to improve your overall health. However, you should only start such exercises 4 - 6 weeks post mastectomy. In doing these exercises, you should also consider any medical condition that you may have and your overall health and fitness.

You start strength building exercises by lifting small weights. You can then increase the weights over time. To ensure that you do this the right way, consult your physical therapist or doctor. If possible, have a therapist supervise your post mastectomy exercises, at least during the early stages to ensure that you do it right for maximum benefit.

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