Consulting Surgeons


Please note: This fact sheet Is a reference to be used only after viewing the American Cancer Society's videotape, "Exercises After Breast Surgery."

Our special thanks to the Rehabilitation Services Department at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago, for contributing to the development of the 'Exercises After Breast Surgery" video and creating the accompanying Fact Sheet.


After breast surgery, ask your doctor when you will be able to do specific exercises to help restore normal arm movement. If your surgery included removal of lymph nodes under your arm, these exercises also will help you achieve full motion and strength in your arm. Remember that it is important to concentrate on activities that involve your shoulder. For most women who have limited shoulder range of motion after breast surgery, the problem is due to restriction of motion at the shoulder joint. The suggestions listed may assist you in your physical rehabilitation and require no special equipment - just your own determination to help yourself.

General Guidelines for Arm Activity After Breast Surgery

Stand erect with head high and arms at sides. Place feet apart about the width of your hips for balance. Be sure to breathe while you are doing the exercises. Do not hold your breath.

Repeat each exercise 5-7 times.

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Warm-Up Program

Neutral Warmth - in order to prepare your muscles for activity start with a warm shower or wrap your shoulder and upper body in a blanket for approximately 5-10 minutes.

Bend at the waist with arm dangling freely, swing arm forward and back, then side to side, and finally in a circle both directions.
Clasp hands In front. Start with arms down and raise upward as far as possible.
Start with arms clasped behind back, move arms upward from back.
Arms relaxed at sides, rotate shoulders in a forward motion and then repeat in the opposite direction.
Tilt head slightly forward and rotate fully to the right then roll head gently downward and to the left.
Holding onto a counter, bend at the waist with head above arms then move head downward between arms feeling the pull across the upper back.
Bend and clasp elbows overhead sidebending trunk to the right then to the left.
Flexion Exercises

Lie on back holding the involved wrist and pulling it overhead.
Hold a stick with both hands and raise it as high as possible, keeping elbows straight.
Start with arm at side, keeping it as close to the body as possible and thumb pointing up, raise arm over-head as far as possible.
Stand facing a wall and slide the involved hand up the wall, assisting with opposite hand if needed. Then lean into the wall keeping the elbow straight and trying to touch armpit to wall. Hold for 5 seconds.

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Abduction Exercises

Arm at side and thumb pointing outward, move arm keeping elbow straight, upward and away from body leading with the thumb.
Hold stick with hands in front of body and move stick upward and out to the right side, return to start position then repeat moving stick out to the left side.

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Internal Rotation Exercises

Hold a stick with both hands, elbows bent as shown. Gently push outward with the uninvolved arm. Hold for 5 seconds.
Arms behind back, holding wrist, gently stretch upward.
Arm behind back, bend elbow and try to reach the opposite shoulder blade.
Grasp towel behind back with one arm over shoulder and one arm under. Hold 5 seconds then switch towel to other shoulder and repeat.

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External Rotation Exercises

Position hands behind head point elbows outward to the side and then forward.
Standing in a doorway place your shoulders and elbows as shown, then lean forward stretching arms backwards. Hold for 5 seconds.

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Horizontal Adduction Exercises

Move arm out to the side at shoulder level, then reach for opposite shoulder.
Clasp hands behind back and gently pull arm while tilting head towards the uninvolved side. Hold for 5 seconds.

© 1996 Northwestern Memorial Hospital

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