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What exercises are good after a Mastectomy

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Breast cancer has become more prevalent over the years and research has helped make the recovery process more manageable. Although surgery is not always involved in the treatment of breast cancer, other forms of intervention can restrict a person's mobility and ability.

A breast biopsy, lymph node removal, or a mastectomy, along with radiation can greatly affect how well a person can move their arm and even how they take a deep breath.Exercises that help increase mobility after a mastectomy Certain exercises have been proven to be beneficial for people recovering from breast cancer, but only after the doctor allows the start of gentle exercises.

If radiation therapy was given, before or after surgery exercises are even more important to keep the arm and shoulder flexible because studies have shown that radiation can affect these areas long after treatment.

Some exercises should not be performed until drains or stitches are removed while others can be started a few days after surgery. Often after a mastectomy, doctors will recommended moving the arm like you would on a normal day to eat, bathe or brush your hair.

The goal of the first couple exercises after surgery is to increase arm or shoulder mobility and reduce swelling. To reduce swelling, the arm should be above the level of the heart for 45 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day while gentle exercises are performed. Opening and closing the hand 15 to 25 times and bending and straightening the elbow while it is elevated will reduce swelling by pumping the lymph fluid out of the arm.

Deep breathing, using the diaphragm, should also be practiced at least 6 times a day. This involves taking a slow deep breath in, expanding the rib cage as much as possible, and then slowly letting it out to maintain normal chest movement. Again, ask your doctor before performing any of these exercises. If normal movement has not been regained after 3 to 4 weeks, ask your doctor to recommend a physical therapist.

Scar massage and regular mobilization of the shoulder joint can keep a keloid scar from becoming functionally restrictive. Remember that it is normal to feel burning, tingling or numbness on the back of the arm or the chest wall because the surgery can irritate nerves, and this may increase a few weeks after surgery. Continue the exercises unless unusual swelling or tenderness occurs and try rubbing the area with your hand or a soft cloth to reduce sensitivity. Do the exercises and stretches gently and slowly, with no bouncing or jerking movements.

Early physical therapy intervention is considered essential to an efficient recovery. People who are involved in their own self-care and professionally guided through a safe home program for edema control (swelling caused by fluid retention),  increasing strength and range of motion, report decreased perceptions of pain and less functional limitations.

Contributed by Krista Magnoli, PTA @ The Physical Therapy Center of West Palm Beach.

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