Post Mastectomy Exercise

‘Following a mastectomy for breast cancer I was given a series of post operative exercises to ensure I regained my arm and shoulder movement. The exerises were helpful but two of them I found particularly difficult to do. I was really struggling and becoming quite dispondent. I returned to my Pilates session two weeks after my operation and Anne came up with great alternative exercises. My arm and shoulder movement continues to improve and I have never looked back.’

I received this feedback from a client recently and it made me wonder how many other people are in a similar situation.
As a physical therapist I have an excellent knowledge of the muscular structure of the body and how it moves. My advice comes from experience I have gained working with clients, assessing what movement they need to regain and how best to achieve it. The results I have seen have been brilliant and I would like to share the most sucessful exercises with other readers. I am not a medical expert so If you are unsure about trying out new exercises do check with your specialist first.

Exercises following breast surgery are essential for the following reasons:
Increasing your range of movement which will be reduced following surgery.
Reducing arm and shoulder stiffness which can lead to aches and pain as well as postural imbalance.
Reducing the risk of lymphoedema by encouraging the lymphatic system to work properly.

You will be given advice regarding starting your exercise programme following surgery and it is important to follow the guidelines you are given. This is likely to involve a small amount of exercise 3 or 4 times a day. Muscles will waste if they are not used, this will cause weakness and stiffness. Surgery often reduces the range of movement and the only way to regain this is stretching exercises.


Shoulder shrugs and lifts: Gently lift and lower each shoulder, circle each shoulder back feeling for maximum movement on each movement.

The Mouse: Lie on the floor on your side with the operated side uppermost. Put the top hand (elbow bent) on the floor in front of you, ‘creep’ the hand along the floor towards your head, and eventually past your head. Return to start position and repeat x 10. This can replace the ‘walking up the wall’ exercise.

The Shoulder stretch: Kneel on the floor with your hands on the floor in front of you. Move your weight forwards onto your hands and walk them away a few inches in front of you. Leaving your hands where they are gently ease your weight back to your knees, then move forward again. Repeat x 10.

The Hand Skate: From the same kneeling position put your hands as wide as you can. Gently move your weight from side to side. This will stretch the area also stretched by the ‘side-on to the wall walk’. Repeat x 10

If you are planning to try out any of these exercises do get in touch with me if there are any parts you don’t understand, or if you sucessfully complete these exercises and would like progressions. Do check with your physio if you have continued stiffness or pain.


The client I worked with on the exercises in this article is now almost five months post op. She has continued with her weekly exercise sessions throughout chemotherapy treatment and although tired comments that the exercise has helped her to feel better.  With the exercise and a couple of sport massages she has achieved full range of movement from her arm and shoulder.  This is an amazing result and I am incredibly proud of her achievement.

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