8 Stretches You Can Try After a Mastectomy

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Following a mastectomy, pain or discomfort can linger in your chest, shoulder, and arm. Some exercises and simple stretching can reduce stiffness and help you regain a full range of motion. Your doctor will likely have exercise suggestions and guidelines for what you should and should not do. Here are a few other stretches and exercises you can try to help with your recovery. Before you begin, ask your doctor about performing these exercises if you’ve also had reconstructive surgery, as some may not be appropriate depending on the type of reconstruction you had. If your doctor has advised a limited range of shoulder or arm motion while you recover, you should modify these exercises to follow their recommendations.

You may feel tightness or pulling while performing your stretches, but the movements shouldn’t be painful, so stop if you feel discomfort. Most exercises instruct you to perform 10 repetitions, but you can begin with five reps and gradually work your way up. If you get tired, let yourself rest and resume later.

8. Shoulder Roll

Shoulder rolls gently stretch muscles in your chest and shoulder region and can be performed either standing or sitting, making them a good choice to start your stretching session.

Let your arms relax at your side. Raise your shoulders forward, then roll them upward, backward, and downward to make a circular motion. Aim to move both arms in parallel, making the circles as large as you can without discomfort. Repeat 10 times, then alternate the direction so your shoulders are rolling forward, and repeat another 10 times.

7. Shrug

The shrug helps reduce stiffness in the shoulder muscles and can be performed hourly, from either the sitting or standing position. Because it requires less range of motion than the shoulder roll, it may be more comfortable to perform during the early recovery stage.

Relax your shoulders, letting your arms fall at your sides. Slowly lift your shoulders up, then gently lower them. Repeat 10 times.

6. Arm Circles

Arm circles strengthen and stretch muscles in the arm, shoulder, and upper back. Only perform this exercise with one arm at a time. If you had breast surgery on one side of your body, perform the exercise with the arm on that side, also called the affected arm.

Stand with your arms relaxed. Lift the affected arm out from your side, but don’t raise it higher than the range of motion recommended by your doctor. Holding your arm straight, slowly make small, counter-clockwise circles in the air. Use your shoulder muscles to make the movement, rather than your elbow or wrist. Gradually increase the size of the circles until they are as large as you can make them without causing discomfort or raising your arm above the level you’ve been advised. Repeat 10 times. Perform another set with the same arm, but this time make clockwise circles.

5. Shoulder Raise

The shoulder raise strengthens muscles and helps to expand the range of movement in your shoulder and upper arm. Remember not to lift your arms higher than you’ve been advised by your doctor while performing this exercise.

Rest your fingertips on your shoulders. Gently lift your elbows as high as your doctor’s guidelines allow or until you feel a comfortable tightness. Make clockwise circles with your elbows. Repeat 10 times.

Click ‘next’ to read on and learn more stretches you can try after a mastectomy.

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