Following a mastectomy, pain or discomfort can linger in your chest, shoulder, and arm. Some exercises and simple stretching can reduce stiffness and help you regain a full range of motion. Your doctor will likely have exercise suggestions and guidelines for what you should and should not do. Here are a few other stretches and exercises you can try to help with your recovery.
Before you begin, ask your doctor about performing these exercises if you’ve also had reconstructive surgery, as some may not be appropriate depending on the type of reconstruction you had. If your doctor has advised a limited range of shoulder or arm motion while you recover, you should modify these exercises to follow their recommendations.
You may feel tightness or pulling while performing your stretches, but the movements shouldn’t be painful, so stop if you feel discomfort. Most exercises instruct you to perform 10 repetitions, but you can begin with five reps and gradually work your way up. If you get tired, let yourself rest and resume later.
8. Shoulder Roll
Shoulder rolls gently stretch muscles in your chest and shoulder region and can be performed either standing or sitting, making them a good choice to start your stretching session.
Let your arms relax at your side. Raise your shoulders forward, then roll them upward, backward, and downward to make a circular motion. Aim to move both arms in parallel, making the circles as large as you can without discomfort. Repeat 10 times, then alternate the direction so your shoulders are rolling forward, and repeat another 10 times.
The shrug helps reduce stiffness in the shoulder muscles and can be performed hourly, from either the sitting or standing position. Because it requires less range of motion than the shoulder roll, it may be more comfortable to perform during the early recovery stage.
Relax your shoulders, letting your arms fall at your sides. Slowly lift your shoulders up, then gently lower them. Repeat 10 times.
6. Arm Circles
Arm circles strengthen and stretch muscles in the arm, shoulder, and upper back. Only perform this exercise with one arm at a time. If you had breast surgery on one side of your body, perform the exercise with the arm on that side, also called the affected arm.
Stand with your arms relaxed. Lift the affected arm out from your side, but don’t raise it higher than the range of motion recommended by your doctor. Holding your arm straight, slowly make small, counter-clockwise circles in the air. Use your shoulder muscles to make the movement, rather than your elbow or wrist.
Gradually increase the size of the circles until they are as large as you can make them without causing discomfort or raising your arm above the level you’ve been advised. Repeat 10 times. Perform another set with the same arm, but this time make clockwise circles.
5. Shoulder Raise
The shoulder raise strengthens muscles and helps to expand the range of movement in your shoulder and upper arm. Remember not to lift your arms higher than you’ve been advised by your doctor while performing this exercise.
Rest your fingertips on your shoulders. Gently lift your elbows as high as your doctor’s guidelines allow or until you feel a comfortable tightness. Make clockwise circles with your elbows. Repeat 10 times.
4. Body Turn
The body turn is performed while seated. It stretches muscles along your back and side to reduce stiffness and help you regain flexibility.
With your back straight and feet on the floor, cross your arms over your chest so your hands rest on or near your shoulders. Slowly turn your torso and head to the left until you feel a comfortable tightness. With your arms still crossed, return facing frontward, then slowly turn to the right. Repeat 10 times.
3. Back Climb
The back climb stretches the muscles that let you move your arm backward and can be performed standing. Only attempt to stretch one arm at a time. If you had surgery on both breasts, begin with the arm that you can most easily move behind you.
Place the affected arm behind your back. Resting your hand against your back, reach your fingers upward toward your shoulder blades. Hold this position for one minute, then lower your arm slowly. You may also use your free hand to grasp the wrist of your affected arm, moving your grasp up your affected arm until it feels comfortably tight.
2. Forward Wall Crawls
The forward wall crawl stretches your arm and shoulder muscles to help you regain motion while reaching out. To mark your progress, you can place a piece of tape on the wall at the highest spot that your unaffected arm can reach. This spot serves as goal for regaining a full range of motion on your affected side.
Face a wall, standing with your toes approximately six inches away. Place both hands on the wall, keeping your elbows slightly bent. With your head and back held straight, climb your fingers up the wall until you feel a comfortable tightness. Hold this position while you breathe slowly through your nose and out your mouth. Climb your fingers back down the wall to your starting position. Repeat 10 times.
1. Side Wall Crawl
Like the forward wall crawl, the side wall crawl improves the range of your reach. Track your progress by marking the highest point on the wall that your unaffected arm can reach.
Stand with your affected side approximately one foot from the wall. Reach your affected arm out to touch the wall, then crawl your fingers up until you feel a comfortable tightness. Hold the position while breathing slowing through your nose and out your mouth. Crawl your fingers back to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
Deep breathing can be a helpful way to begin or end your stretching session. The practice can reduce stiffness in your torso and relax your body. Deep breathing may also be used when you hold a stretch, such as wall crawls. To begin, take a slow, deep breath through your nose, allowing your lungs to fill fully. Then exhale slowly and completely through your mouth. Repeat eight to 10 times.
Again, make sure you discuss these exercises and stretches with your doctor before you begin doing them. Don’t rush your recovery — a little effort and patience can go a long way toward helping you get better.
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