Exercising after Reconstruction: How Much, When, How Long

Breast surgery can affect your shoulder and arm

One of the biggest questions out of the gate after reconstructive surgery is: When can I resume normal activity and exercise? The answer varies with each woman and situation and depends on the type of procedure and amount of surgery involved. And indeed, the various surgeries can affect how well you can move your shoulder and arm, take a deep breath, or do daily activities, like dressing, bathing and even combing your hair, according to the American Cancer Society.

Too often, women err on the side of caution, becoming more sedentary after reconstructive surgery. “So the first goal is to gradually return to the level of activity you were able to handle before you were diagnosed,” observes Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD. Specific exercises to improve range of motion on the side where you had surgery not only help prevent shoulder stiffness but get muscles working again. They also help decrease side effects of surgery and hasten the return to your daily routine. Exercises that augment shoulder and arm motion can often be initiated only a few days after surgery; exercises to strengthen the arm can be added later.

Talk with your doctor before starting any reconstructive exercises to make sure they will be safe and effective. Especially if you do not have full use of your arm a 3-4 weeks after surgery, you may need the assistance of a physical or occupational therapist who will help design a program specific to your needs. Once you’ve determined the right kind of exercises your situation, then set goals to gradually and prudently increase the level of physical activity.

Finally, stop exercising immediately if you start feeling dizzy or weak, experience pain that gets worse or a heaviness or tingling in your arm, or have new/increased in swelling. If any of these occur, it’s time to call your physician right away.

Photo: Untitled by Daniel Oines on Flickr

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