Exercising After a Mastectomy: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

During a mastectomy, your doctor removed your breast and may have removed some of the lymph nodes from under your arm. 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.

Take good care of your arm on the side of your surgery. Your doctor or physical therapist can teach you arm exercises that will let you move your arm as you always have. But be careful not to overuse your arm. For example, do not lift anything heavy with your arm until your doctor says it is okay. The basic exercises described here will help you start moving your arm.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you exercise safely?

  • Do not start to exercise until your doctor says it is 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 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.

Getting started with exercises after surgery

How to do shoulder relaxation exercises

Shoulder relaxation exercises
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slide 1 of 6, How to do shoulder relaxation exercises,
  1. Try one or both of these exercises to relax your shoulders:
  • Shoulder shrugs: While you sit or stand, lift your shoulders up toward your ears. Relax your shoulders, and let them drop to their usual position.
  • Shoulder rolls: While you sit or stand, roll your shoulders from front to back and up to down.

How to do a shoulder blade stretch

Shoulder blade stretch exercise
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slide 2 of 6, How to do a shoulder blade stretch,
  1. While you sit, stretch your arms behind your back, and grasp your hands together.
  2. Hold for 5 seconds.
  3. Repeat 2 or 3 times.

How to do an overhead reach

Overhead reach exercise
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slide 3 of 6, How to do an overhead reach,
  1. While you sit or stand, clasp your hands together and extend your elbows.
  2. Lift your arms up toward your head.
  3. Hold for 3 seconds.
  4. Repeat 2 or 3 times.

How to do a shoulder pinch

Shoulder pinch exercise
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slide 4 of 6, How to do a shoulder pinch,
  1. While you sit or stand, clasp your hands behind your head.
  2. Bring your elbows back, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Keep your shoulders back and down.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds.
  4. Repeat 2 or 3 times.

How to do a wall climb

Wall climb exercise
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slide 5 of 6, How to do a wall climb,
  1. While you stand, face a wall, with your hands on the wall.
  2. Walk your fingers up the wall until you feel a stretch.
  3. Hold that position for 5 seconds.
  4. Slowly walk your fingers back down to the starting position.
  5. Repeat 2 or 3 times.

How to do elbow circles

Elbow circles exercise
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slide 6 of 6, How to do elbow circles,
  1. While you sit or stand, put your right hand on your right shoulder, and your left hand on your left shoulder.
  2. Raise your elbows until you feel a stretch.
  3. Make circles with your elbows. Start small and then make larger circles.
  4. Change direction with your circles.
  5. Repeat 2 or 3 times.



The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.