Post Surgery Exercises

Dear All
I am new to this site but have been benefitting from all sorts of advice on this discussion forum since my dx earlier this year. I have just completed 8 cycles of chemotherapy and have WLE + ANC booked for 19th October. I have really struggled to come to terms with the fact that I will now be at risk of lymhodema for the rest of my life but think I have reached a point of acceptance rather than being gripped by terror. However, I do have some specific concerns about post surgery exercises and would be grateful for views.
I have been given a DVD of exercises from Breast Cancer Care and understand that you should avoid raising the affected arm above the shoulder for the first week (some people believe you shouldn’t raise it above shoulder for first 10-14 days). I also have some risk reducing exercises from the Haven and wonder when I should introduce these into my daily exercise regime. My BCN suggested after 4 weeks but I felt she was hazarding a guess. I so badly want to put all this behind me once treatment finishes but am finding it hard to believe that I will be able to strike a balance between returning to a normal life and and at the same time doing all I can to reduce my risk. I don’t want each day to feel like a minefield!
Thank you everyone.

Hi Jane and welcome to the BCC forums where your fellow users will be along with shared experiences and support for you very soon.

In addition, you may find it useful to call our helpline where you can discuss your concerns with one of our team, they are here to offer you further support and information along with other support ideas on 0808 800 6000, lines are open weekdays 9-5 and Sat 10-2

The following link will take you to the ‘Treatments’ web page where you will find information about surgery with a publication about reducing your risk of lymphoedema :

Take care


Hello Jane
When I had my MX and nodes removed, I saw a Lymphodema physio just before the op. She gave me a leaflet of exercises and or my recon advised how many days post-op each should be started. Different exercises were started on different days. The ones to start immediately were shoulder-shrugging.
The arm-lifting ones were to be started 10 days post-op, but if I had a different recon then some were 7 days. From my experience, starting the exercises at 7-10 days it will be close to day 14 post-op before you are lifting your arm above your shoulder!

Thank you for your reply. Unless I see someone privately, I don’t think I will have the opportunity to see a LE physio before the op. I will have another look at my DVD and leaflet…

Hi Jane,
Good luck with your surgery–for me it was the easy part! What I’ve learned from the Lymphoedema group on the US breastcancer dot org forum:
Make sure you are not doing any exercises or stretches above shoulder level, for at least one week following your surgery. A random-controlled trial led by Jacquelyn Todd in Leeds had two groups of patients: all with axillary dissection, and half followed the traditional program of immediate post-surgery shoulder mobilty exercises (like ‘wall walking’), and the other half waited 7 days before starting these exercises. The ‘immediate’ group had 2.7 times the incidence of LE by the end of one year, compared to the group that did immediate exercises. Both groups has the same physical outcome at the end of that year, in terms of shoulder and arm mobility, so they demonstrated that waiting the week reduces LE incidence without impairing physical function.
Really take it easy at first … you want to minimize extra load on your lymphatics that exercise brings. skip the housework and cooking, and if you have little kids, try to get someone to help out at home.
Bring a poncho or button down short sleeve or sleeveless shirt to wear home from the hospital so you don’t have to lift your arms up over your head, and think about (don’t laugh) brushing your hair if that’s an issue (I just had a herceptin treatment with a cold-cap woman who had a full head of hair–makes my fuzz look really pathetic).
That said, don’t be afraid of excercise. Not only will gentle stretching (see that Haven’s webvideo on Lymphoedema) help you regain your movement, but excercise is one of the best ways to keep the lymph moving, and is one of the “cornerstones” of lymphoedema care. Just go slow, don’t “push through pain” (as the woman at the Haven says) and don’t think if one is good fifty will be better.
Good luck, let us know how you get on, Quail

Hi Quail
Thank you so much for your reply and helpful advice. It all feels so frightening at the moment but I am sure I will cope and feel less anxious when the time comes. Fortunately, I won’t have to worry about hair brushing as I have the head of a new-born baby having abandoned the cold cap after 2 minutes!