Building Back After Breast Cancer Surgery

By Diane Vives – October 4, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Muscle Movement of the Month is a new feature that will introduce muscle movements to strengthen a specific muscle or muscle group in each issue. Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, we wanted to provide vital information for those recovering from breast cancer surgery. 

Following breast cancer surgery and treatment, it is sometimes difficult or impossible to reach up into kitchen cabinets, pull a pan out of the oven, or even walk a dog when it pulls sideways on a leash. Exercise is a wonderful aid in the healing process. Returning to an active lifestyle helps not only the physical healing process but also the mental struggles, such as depression, associated with recovery from breast cancer.

However, many movements can prove quite challenging following surgical intervention such as lumpectomy, mastectomy, and reconstruction. The following exercises target the specific areas of recovery needed to make a positive difference (as always, please consult your doctor before beginning an exercise routine).

Let’s get started. Keep in mind that the goal is to work according to your own ability level while maintaining pain-free range of motion; this concept is key to progressing safely and with the correct intensity.

The first exercise focuses on the recovering muscle tissue of the chest. This movement addresses restricted movement as well as weakened shoulder strength.

1) Rolling Push-Up
a. Find an elevated surface such as bench or secured bar on a squat rack.

b. Start in push-up position on the elevated surface, arms straight, on balls of the feet.

c. With slow, controlled movement, move your head and shoulders as one unit in a circular motion (shift your body weight slightly down, right, up, and left).

d. Start with small circles and open to larger circles as your strength and pain-free range of motion allows.

The second exercise is a strengthening posture utilizing the pulling muscles of the back and posterior shoulder. Working one arm at a time engages the core, which helps standing position stability and strength.

2) Band/Cable Standing Row
a. Stand facing an anchored band/cable with feet shoulder-width apart.

b. Grip the band/cable with one hand, arm straight.

c. Pull the shoulder blade down, then start the rowing motion, pulling arm back, leading with elbow.

d. Squeeze the shoulder blade down and back as the shoulder follows, pulling back to finish movement.

Research has shown loss of grip strength as a result of treatment. This can limit overall strength in the upper body which, in turn, limits activity. Therefore, the third exercise is a pulling motion emphasizing grip while the larger muscles of the back assist.

3) Bent-Over Row with SandBell
a. With feet shoulder-width apart and a SandBell on the floor in front of you, hinge forward at the hips, keeping the back flat.

b. Get a full-hand grip of the SandBell and pull it up leading with the elbow past the rib cage.

c. Squeeze the shoulder blade down and back as the shoulder follows, pulling back to finish movement.


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