Exercise after treatment

Exercises After Breast Surgery

Breast surgery can affect your arm

Women with breast cancer may have many different kinds of treatments. Many women with breast cancer have some kind of surgery. You may have had a:

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

Any of these can affect how well you can move your shoulder and arm, take a deep breath, or do your daily activities, like dressing, bathing, and combing your hair.

Exercises can help

No matter what type of surgery you had, it is important to do exercises afterwards. Exercises help to decrease any side effects of your surgery and make you able to go back to your normal daily activities.

If you have radiation therapy, exercises are important to help keep your arm and shoulder flexible. Radiation therapy may affect your arm and shoulder for up to 6 to 9 months after it is finished.

It is very important to talk with your doctor before starting any exercises so that you can decide on a program that is right for you. Your doctor may suggest that you talk with a physical therapist or occupational therapist. This therapist has special training to help design an exercise program just for you. You may need this kind of help if you do not have full use of your arm within 3 to 4 weeks of surgery.

Some exercises should not be done until drains and sutures (stitches) are removed. But some exercises can be done soon after surgery. The exercises that increase shoulder and arm motion can usually be started in a few days. The exercises to help make your arm stronger are added later.

We will review some of the more common exercises that women do after breast surgery. Talk to your doctor or therapist about which of these are right for you and when you should start doing them. Do not start any of these exercises without talking to your doctor first.

The week after surgery

These tips and exercises listed below should be done for the first 3 to 7 days after surgery. Do not do them until you get the OK from your doctor.

  • Use your affected arm (on the side where your surgery was) as you normally would when you comb your hair, bathe, get dressed, and eat.
  • Lie down and raise your affected arm above the level of your heart for 45 minutes. Do this 2 or 3 times a day. Put your arm on pillows so that your hand is higher than your wrist and your elbow is a little higher than your shoulder. This will help decrease the swelling that may happen after surgery.
  • Exercise your affected arm while it is raised above the level of your heart by opening and closing your hand 15 to 25 times. Next, bend and straighten your elbow. Repeat this 3 to 4 times a day. This exercise helps reduce swelling by pumping lymph fluid out of your arm.
  • Practice deep breathing exercises (using your diaphragm) at least 6 times a day. Lie down on your back and take a slow, deep breath. Breathe in as much air as you can while trying to expand your chest and abdomen (push your belly button away from your spine). Relax and breathe out. Repeat this 4 or 5 times. This exercise will help maintain normal movement of your chest, making it easier for your lungs to work. Do deep breathing exercises often.
  • Do not sleep on your affected arm or lie on that side.

Getting started — general guidelines

The exercises described here can be done as soon as your doctor says it’s OK. Be sure to talk to your doctor before trying any of them. Here are some things to keep in mind after breast surgery:

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