Exercises to Speed Your Recovery after Breast Surgery

My long term client recently had a bilateral mastectomy.  I have known this woman for 24 years and she has always been physically active, training with me as well as keeping up with the exercises on her own.  She asked to meet with me before her surgery to be reassured that she would be able to maintain a physical lifestyle and do everything she had done before – workout, swim, ski, play tennis.

The goal after breast surgery is to recover your previous level of functioning and reclaim your normal activity level.

Appropriate exercise can definitely be the pathway to recovery.  Doctors advise walking as soon as possible after breast surgery, beginning in the hospital and continuing throughout all phases of treatment.  As soon as the surgeon gives permission, you can begin carefully planned exercise with a nurse, physical therapist or trained volunteer.

Once the drains are removed (7-10 days after surgery) mobility exercises help restore full range of motion in the arm and shoulder area. These are exercises like head, neck and shoulder isolations as well as the classic wall climb and "chickens." To open the chest and improve posture, perform simple stretches while doing deep breathing. For example, lie on your back, place a pillow under the affected arm and shoulder, position your arm to feel the stretch, and let gravity assist in relaxing the muscles.

When pain free range of motion has been restored and the wound is healed, you can begin gentle strengthening exercises to support the muscles around the mastectomy site.  Some of these exercises have the additional advantage of pumping the lymphatic system, like the shoulder blade squeeze ("W's"), shoulder rotation with arms straight out to the sides at shoulder level, and elbow bend ("biceps curl").  Gradually, you can incorporate exercises using light weights or stretch bands.

During the time of cancer detection, diagnosis and treatment, the goal is to maintain all the daily routines that comprise your lifestyle.  Regular physical activity can help discharge tension and put your system back in balance.  As you feel better, you restore your confidence and self-esteem, reinforcing the mind-body aspect of returning to normal.