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Easy Exercises To Expedite Mastectomy & Lumpectomy Recovery

Updated: May 6

How are you doing with your recovery from surgery? For almost any woman diagnosed with breast cancer or DCIS, surgery will part of your treatment plan. What we are often not told though is that, while the skin and tissues will knit, and the sutures and drains will come out and we will come through things in one piece, the physical repercussions of surgery can and often do last long after we are cleared for normal activity. Even months or years after surgery, pain, loss of sensation, lymphedema, and loss of mobility are all common. I found it funny that, when I was making exercise videos for my "Heal From Surgery" program (you can see one of them above) I was able to see restriction in my own movement that I didn't even know was there! It wasn't until I recorded myself and watched the video to see that my arm moved differently on the side of my lumpectomy.

That is why getting moving in a consistent and targeted way for anyone who has had surgery, at any time after the surgery is so important. It helps to minimize scar tissue, drain excess fluid from the arm, and improve mobility for the long term. Even if it has been a long time since your surgery you can still jump in to moving again to improve comfort and range of motion!

During the recovery process, you will lose some mobility while your body heals the wound. This temporary tightening will only have prolonged effects if you let it - long term stagnation is the enemy. I want to show you some approachable and easy exercises to expedite mastectomy and lumpectomy recovery so you can heal from surgery more fully and feel strong again faster! 

Movement After Breast Cancer Surgery

Don't Be Afraid To Move!

After your surgery, your doctor will tell you when it's okay to start moving and exercising again. Usually, if you've had a smaller surgery (lumpectomy), you can start doing light activities the very next day. But, for a more significant surgery like a mastectomy, especially if you have drains,  you will generally be advised to wait 1-2 weeks before starting any mobility work. However, once you are cleared to exercise it’s important to follow your exercises and do them every day! Always, always, always make sure to ask your doctor what's right for your unique circumstances before acting on advice you found online.

While it’s normal to want to jump back into full activity as soon as possible, remember the key is consistency, so you can gradually work back to full mobility. . Take things slow at first and be gentle to yourself in both mind and body. You may be tired, exhausted even, and that’s important to honor with rest. For the most full recovery, you need to balance rest with daily, consistent movements and stick to your recommended exercises to rebuild strength and mobility.  

From a purely mechanical standpoint, the breasts are right in the middle of your torso where a lot of muscles come together, so removal of breast tissue and lymph nodes impacts your whole torso, back, shoulders, and arms.  So your recovery needs to include targeted exercises and practices that minimizes scar tissue and brings mobility to all of these areas.  If you have lymph nodes removed, you may also need to implement strategies to minimize fluid buildup, or lymphedema,  in the arms.  Whatever your situation, remember that movement is the best medicine! 

Start Small - Simple Daily Practices

Approaching necessary daily tasks with added intentionality is a great way to begin “exercising” as your mastectomy/lumpectomy recovery journey gets going. While showering, getting dressed, and making breakfast, sense where you're feeling a slight strain. Take your time and avoid overdoing anything. Find creative solutions, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be willing to break the task into bite sized steps.  Make it a priority to work towards the activities you do each day, like reaching for a glass, or putting on your bra. Listen to your body, modify activities, and keep moving. 

Walk It Out

Once your doctor gives the OK, short, daily walks are a perfect way to get moving again. The fresh air will do wonders as well! Take a 10-minute stroll down the block and work up from there. Walking boosts blood flow, builds strength, and helps bowel function after anesthesia.

Prioritize Posture

Whether you're walking or sitting, bring added awareness to your posture. Keep your head and chest lifted. Try to broaden your shoulders instead of hunching over if you’re sore. Proper posture keeps your muscles engaged and makes sure they don’t pick up bad habits. Ask your husband, kids, or co-habitants to be accountability buddies and watch them pick up a new good habit alongside you. 

Move Things Around!

After your initial recovery, perhaps 6-8 weeks after your surgery, you should be starting to feel like everything is coming back together.  Regardless of how diligent you have been with your exercises, your body’s natural healing process, or scarring, will start to take place.  This can cause longer term issues with pain and lack of mobility. One great strategy for minimizing this is to give yourself a massage. You can gently work to massage the muscle and move the tissues around, especially while you are moving the arm through any movements that feel stuck or limited.

Have questions about supplements for minimizing scar tissue? Check out my surgery recovery program for my full post-surgery recovery protocol

5 Targeted Exercises For Mastectomy/Lumpectomy Recovery

Your journey back to mobility starts with gentle exercises along with working towards daily tasks, and then ramps up over time. By focusing on exercises that encourage movement without strain, you can re-gain a wider range of movement much faster than if you just wait to feel better. This dramatically helps alleviate lingering or long term tightness. 

Before any exercise, it’s wise to warm up. Clench your fists, rotate your wrists, bend your elbows, and most importantly, breathe. Do these micro-movements at least 5 times each and do not rush

Easing Into Targeted Exercises 

These exercises are specifically designed for use right at the beginning of your rehab–the day after lumpectomy, or after the first 1-2 weeks after mastectomy (check with your surgeon for what is most appropriate for you.)  These exercises should be good for 10-14 days, then you can move on to more advanced exercises.  Again, you can check out the next level of exercises in my surgery recovery program.

1. Lying Down Overhead Arm Lift

Lie down on your back and slowly raise your arms above your head. This simple movement is great for getting your arms moving again and softly stretches your chest. It's a helpful way to start bringing back flexibility and comfort to your upper body after surgery. Go slow, stay steady.

2. “Snow Angels”: 

No snow needed, but imagine yourself creating a snow angel while you're lying down on your back. This action helps stretch your arms and shoulders without fighting gravity, increasing flexibility and avoiding major strain. It's an easy way to work on your movement without leaving the comfort of your bed!

3. Goalpost Arm Rotations: 

While lying on your back, place your arms in a T position with a 90 degree angle at the elbow, with your fingers pointing towards your head like a goalpost (in yoga this is often called “cactus arms”.)  Then, rotate your shoulders until your fingers point towards your toes. . This simple exercise is good for making your shoulders more flexible. It's an easy step you can take to improve how you move your upper body.

4. Shoulder Shrugs And Gentle Shoulder Push: 

 While you are in a seated position, bring your shoulders up towards your ears as high as you can bring them, then slowly lower them down, driving your arms toward the ground as much as you can without pain. We’re bringing both strength and flexibility to the muscles that connect your head, neck, and shoulders. 

5. Deep Breathing

The muscles that connect your ribs to each other, as well as those that move the arms and shoulders that lie over your rib cage, can all be affected by breast surgery.  One of the simplest, most powerful ways to improve the mobility of these muscles is through intentional, deep breathing. As you inflate your lungs those muscles will move and stretch in all directions.  As you sit or lie on your back, focus on inflating the lungs with each breath, all the way from your waist to the tops of your shoulders. You should be able to feel the muscles in your rib cage move with each breath. This should also improve your own awareness of how those muscles are doing.

Advanced Exercises

Now, I know following written instructions for physical actions is not everybody's cup of tea. In my Heal From Surgery course, I have a “Mobility Module” fitted with videos that demonstrate these exercises and more. I’d like to share a taste with you free of charge - here’s a slide show that will share some fundamental insights we’ve covered in this blog and give you a visual example of the movements in action. 

As you continue to recover from your Mastectomy or Lumpectomy surgery, your exercises will advance, adding more active movements to further improve mobility and enhance your healing.  These movements are more nuanced, but also more practical. For example, after surgery, it’s likely you’ve lost the mobility to fasten your own bra…exercises that both loosen and strengthen the muscle groups needed to perform this action will lead to regaining much appreciated independence. If you’re at this stage in your post-surgery recovery journey and you're interested in these targeted exercises, then my mobility module in the Heal From Surgery course will hit the spot!   

Keep Exercising Your Joy

Healing from breast cancer surgery isn't just physical - it's emotional too. Don't forget to "exercise" the most important muscle of all: your mind. Carve out time each day for uplifting activities like:

  • Calling a funny friend

  • Reading an inspiring memoir

  • Writing in a gratitude journal

  • Savoring a warm cup of tea

  • Watching kitten videos (this is crucial!)


Both Movement and laughter are commonly called the most powerful medicine. I wonder which is ultimately more impactful. Either way, make sure that both  are a part of your recovery routine. 

For more information about helpful exercises to help you heal from surgery faster and more fully, you’ll want to check out my  surgery specific online program. Beyond videos about how to use intentional movement to heal, the course is jam-packed with information about nutrition, supplement, and lifestyle insights that will lead to a well rounded recovery. 

Of course, this isn’t the only product in my suite - I’ve created courses that speak specifically to women who are going through the three primary phases of Breast Cancer treatment: Surgery, Chemotherapy, and Medication. My Programs Page provides information about all three and should help guide you to the right solution. 

This breast cancer journey will likely have many ups and downs. On the hard days, it helps to acknowledge your wins. When you take a walk, do some stretches, or simply get through a tough day - pat yourself on the back! Recognize the strength you're building as you heal from surgery. You've got this, one step at a time. Keep finding those small ways to move your body that feel good. Stay the course and trust that you're well on the way to Thriving.


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