Women with breast cancer often are treated with some kind of surgery which can include: Surgical breast biopsy, Lymph node removal, Breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) Mastectomy and Breast reconstruction. Any of these can affect how well you can move your shoulder and arm or go about your daily activities, like dressing, bathing, and combing your hair. Pain and stiffness can cause weakness and limit movement of your arm and shoulder.


No matter what type of surgery you have, it’s important to do exercises afterward to get the arm and shoulder moving again. Exercises help decrease side effects of your surgery and help you get back to your usual activities.

It’s very important to talk with your doctor before starting any exercises so that you can decide on a program that’s right for you.

Here are some of the more common exercises that women do after breast surgery. Talk to your doctor or therapist about which of these are right for you and when you should start doing them. Do not start any of these exercises without talking to your doctor first.


The tips and exercises listed below should be done for the first 3 to 7 days after surgery. Do not do them until you get the OK from your doctor. Use your affected arm (on the same side as your surgery) as you normally would when you comb your hair, bathe, get dressed, and eat. Be sure to ask your doctor if you can lift heavier items.

Raise your arms up to shoulder height, or whatever height you can without pulling on your drains, and lower them again a few times. Repeat this 3 or 4 times a day. These exercises help move lymph fluid out of your arm and help restore movement.

Practice deep breathing exercises (using your diaphragm) at least 6 times a day. Lie down on your back and take a slow, deep breath. Breathe in as much air as you can while trying to expand your chest and abdomen (push your belly button away from your spine). Relax and breathe out. Repeat this 4 or 5 times. This exercise will help maintain normal movement of your chest, making it easier for your lungs to work. Do deep breathing exercises often.

It may be helpful to exercise after a warm shower when muscles are warm and relaxed. Wear comfortable, loose clothing when doing the exercises.

Here are some of the more common exercises that women do after breast surgery.


• This exercise helps increase your ability to move your shoulders forward. You will need a broom handle, yardstick, or other stick-like object to use as the wand in this exercise. Do these exercises on a bed or the floor. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat.

• Hold the wand across your belly in both hands with your palms facing up.

• Lift the wand up over your head as far as you can. Use your unaffected arm to help lift the wand until you feel a stretch in your affected arm.

• Hold for 5 seconds.

• Lower arms and repeat 5 to 7 times.


• This exercise helps increase the movement in the front of your chest and shoulder. It may take many weeks of regular exercise before your elbows will get close to the bed or floor. Do these exercises on a bed or the floor. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat.

• Clasp your hands behind your neck with your elbows pointing toward the ceiling.

• Move your elbows apart and down toward the bed or floor.

• Repeat 5 to 7 times.


• This exercise helps increase your shoulder blade movement.

• Sit in a chair very close to a table with your back against the back of the chair.

• Place the unaffected arm on the table with your elbow bent and palm down. Do not move this arm during the exercise.

• Place the affected arm on the table, palm down, with your elbow straight.

• Without moving your trunk, slide the affected arm forward, toward the opposite side of the table. You should feel your shoulder blade move as you do this.

• Relax your arm and repeat 5 to 7 times.


• This exercise also helps increase shoulder blade movement and improve posture.

• Sit in a chair in front of a mirror. Face straight ahead. Do not rest against the back of the chair.

• Your arms should be at your sides with your elbows bent.

• Squeeze your shoulder blades together, bringing your elbows behind you toward your spine. Elbows will move with you, but don't force the motion with your elbows. Keep your shoulders level as you do this. Do not lift your shoulders up toward your ears.

• Return to the starting position and repeat 5 to 7 times.