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Exercises After Breast Cancer Surgery

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on October 29, 2021

Treatment for breast cancer typically involves one of the following surgeries: 

  • Mastectomy
  • Surgical breast biopsy
  • Lymph node removal
  • Breast conservation surgery (lumpectomy)
  • Breast reconstruction

Breast cancer surgery can affect your shoulder and arm mobility. This involves your daily activities like bathing, fixing your hair, and getting dressed. When your arm and shoulder are still, you're more likely to have pain and weakness. Once you have been cleared, though, doing exercises can help alleviate some of this tension. 

Exercising after surgery can help you recover quicker and decrease the side effects of the surgery. 

Below you’ll find low-impact exercises to help get back your range of motion in your shoulder.

1. Wand Exercise

This exercise helps you move your shoulder forward. For this exercise, you’ll need a yardstick, broom handle, or other stick-like objects. To get started, you can do this exercise on the floor or your bed: 

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat. 
  • Hold the stick across your stomach in both hands with your palms facing up.
  • Lift the wand up over your head as far as you can. Use your unaffected arm to help lift the wand until you feel a stretch in your affected arm.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Lower arms and repeat 6 to 8 times.

2. Elbow Winging

This exercise helps increase the range of motion in your chest and shoulder. This exercise can take longer to get the deepest bend. Make sure you don’t push yourself past your limit. Be mindful of the stretch becoming painful. To start, lie on the floor or your bed: 

  • Bend your knees and keep your fleet flat: 
  • Clasp your hands behind your neck with your elbows pointing toward the ceiling.
  • Move your elbows apart and down toward the bed or floor.
  • Repeat 5 to 7 times.

3. Side Bends

This exercise will help you increase flexibility and mobility in your abdomen and upper body. You’ll need to be sitting upright to begin this exercise. You should feel a good stretch in your sides and arms. Make sure you stop if you start to feel pain. To begin: 

  • Sit in a chair and bring your hands together in front of you. 
  • Lift your arms slowly over your head, straightening your arms.
  • With your arms overhead, bend your entire body to the right, keeping your arms overhead.
  • Return to the starting position upright and then bend to the left.
  • Repeat 6 to 8 times.

4. Shoulder Walk-Up

This exercise is a little more involved. If you’ve had reconstruction surgery, you shouldn’t do this exercise until your drains get removed. For this exercise, you’ll need to be standing up facing a wall. To begin, straighten out your arm until you’re lightly touching the wall: 

  • Use your fingers to walk your arm up the wall lightly. 
  • When you feel a light stretch, stop. 
  • Slowly crawl your arm back down to the starting position. 
  • Repeat 6 to 8 times. 

During your breast cancer recovery, remember to avoid pushing yourself too hard (e.g., engaging in exercise that is unusually painful).

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

American Cancer Society: “Exercises After Breast Cancer Surgery.”

Brigham and Women’s Hospital: “Post-Operative Activity Guidelines and Exercises.”

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