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Exercises After Mastectomy

Topic Overview

After breast surgery (mastectomy), you may feel some pain going down your arm. Your shoulder and arm may be stiff and hard to move. You may also have some loss of feeling there.

The basic exercises described here will help you start moving your arm. But be careful not to overdo it. For example, don't lift anything heavy with your arm until your doctor says it's okay.

Getting started with exercises

Don't start to exercise until your doctor says it's okay. If you are not sure how to do an exercise, don't start it until your doctor or physical therapist shows you exactly how to do it.

Stop exercising if your arm or chest area hurts or begins to swell. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms. Also call your doctor if you have problems doing an exercise or if it hurts.

Wear loose-fitting clothing while you do your exercises.

Use your arm for your usual activities, such as brushing your teeth and hair.

Special exercises that will help you get back your strength and flexibility include:

  • Shoulder shrug.
  • Shoulder roll.
  • Shoulder blade stretch.
  • Overhead reach.
  • Shoulder pinch.
  • Wall climb.
  • Elbow circles.

See pictures of how to do these exercises.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your exercises cause pain or are hard to do.
  • You have fluid buildup in your arm.
  • You notice swelling anywhere in your arm, armpit, or chest area.

Credits

Current as of: April 29, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Douglas A. Stewart MD - Medical Oncology

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Here are a few additional resources as well: 

World Health Organization
Centers for Disease Control

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