Post-Mastectomy Exercise Guidelines

Published:  02/02/2018

What are the exercise guidelines for women who have had a mastectomy?

Most likely your doctor will tell you no exercise for six weeks. They don't want you to exercise until any drains and stitches are removed. It's in your best interest to rest and let your body heal properly.

After several weeks your doctor may let you walk or workout on an elliptical so be sure to ask. No matter what type of exercise you do, start at a light intensity level and up the intensity level very gradually. If you have any shortness of breath, pain, or tightness in your chest, stop exercising immediately and let your doctor know.

Make sure you have your surgeon's OK to start back. Explain the exercises you plan to do and ask about any possible limitations.

If you're experiencing extreme fatigue, anemia (low red blood cell count), or a lack of muscle coordination (ataxia), don't exercise. It's also a good idea to skip aerobic exercise if your platelet (small blood components that help the clotting process) count is lower than 50,000 per microliter of blood or your white blood cell count is lower than 3,500 per microliter of blood.

It's also a good idea to visit a physical therapist well-versed in lymphedema for a structural evaluation before you start exercising. Ask if your doctor if this may be appropriate for you.

Several nerves run through the chest and underarm area and may be affected by the surgery, so you may find your muscles are weaker than they were before surgery.

Once you start working out again, if you have any changes in your arm, hand, trunk, breast, or shoulder, including swelling, stop doing upper body exercises and see your doctor or lymphedema specialist.

Are you having any reconstruction done at that time? There are some additional guidelines depending on what type of reconstruction so if so ask your physician. And consider consulting with a personal trainer who has had specialized training in working with women post-mastectomy. 

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