Exercise after mastectomy

Lora Packel, MSPT
Last Modified: January 20, 2002

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

I am looking for the latest information regarding exercise for a very recent postop mastectomy. Or is it doctor related preference as how much exercise how soon?  


Answer

Lora Packel, MSPT, Coordinator of Cancer Rehabilitation at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

Many physicians and physical therapists recommend that exercise should be postponed until the drains are removed. Once your physician has cleared you to begin exercises, let the fun begin!

The goals of exercise after mastectomy are to increase the range of motion or flexibility of your shoulder and to prevent postural changes that can occur after surgery. Exercises should begin slowly, as healing of the surgical wound is of primary importance. Once the wound has healed and you are able to reach overhead, behind your back and touch the back of your head, you may begin using light weights. However, if you notice any swelling, heaviness or redness in your arm, hand, axilla, breast or trunk, immediately contact your nurse or physician. These may be early signs of lymphedema.

References for exercise and lymphedema can be found on this website as well as in Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book. In addition, you may benefit from seeing a physical therapist to help progress your program and teach you about lymphedema. This is especially important if you have any pre-existing shoulder problems or have had an extensive removal of your lymph nodes.