Baylor College of Medicine

Three women walking on a nature trail.

Get moving after breast cancer surgery

Molly Chiu


Houston, TX -

Exercise is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and it’s especially beneficial for people recovering from breast cancer surgery. Dr. Alastair Thompson, professor in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery and section chief of breast surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, provides tips on exercises to get back to normal after surgery.

“People who return to everyday activity sooner after surgery tend to heal better and have fewer complications,” said Thompson, Olga Keith Wiess Chair of Surgery and co-associate director for clinical research at the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor. “If you have had surgery to the chest wall, the breast or the armpit, exercising the arm gently is a good way to improve shoulder mobility and reduce swelling.”

Thompson recommends these gentle stretches to maintain arm mobility:

•    Touch the top of your head
•    Reach behind your back
•    Reach toward the ceiling

Other stretching exercises like yoga also can be beneficial. Thompson reminds yogis to be mindful that the area around the site of surgery may be less flexible. In addition to stretching, he also recommends aerobic exercise to stimulate the muscles, bones, heart and lungs.

“Walking is a good light exercise, and you don’t need anything other than a pair of comfortable shoes to do it,” Thompson said. “It can be on the treadmill or around your neighborhood, as long as the area is well-lit, and the path is safe under foot.”

If you like to run, Thompson recommends working back up to your normal speed slowly. Give yourself at least 5-7 days to recover, then start with a gentle walk and ramp up from there.

“Try to do a bit more each day to get back to normal, but don’t overdo it,” Thompson said. “Everyone is different, so use your own judgment. Be in charge of your own recovery.”
Thompson advises checking with your surgeon about exercises following surgery. Patients who are struggling with mobility may be referred to a physical therapist.

Learn more about the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center

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