A lumpectomy, also known as breast-conserving surgery, is a procedure in which the surgeon removes the tumour and a small margin of healthy tissue surrounding it. This surgery is often performed as a treatment for early-stage breast cancer or benign breast conditions.
After the procedure, you may experience pain, stiffness, weakness, and limited movement in your affected arm and shoulder. This can make daily activities such as dressing, bathing, and combing your hair difficult to cope with.
Regardless of the type of breast surgery you end up having, it's important to get the shoulder and arm moving afterwards, provided you have permission from your healthcare team. Exercise can decrease side effects and assist in your post-surgical recovery.
What Post-Surgical Changes Do I Need To Be Aware Of?
Your body is likely to be different after a lumpectomy, and this can affect your recovery exercise plan. Each individual will be dealing with their own unique changes, treatment, and recovery, but there are some common obstacles to keep in mind when preparing for post-surgical exercise.
After a lumpectomy, there may be a loss of breast tissue, which can affect the fit of bras and clothing. It is important to wear a well-fitted bra that provides adequate support during exercise, as this can help reduce discomfort and prevent further damage to the surgical site.
Immediately after surgery, you will likely be given a short-term surgical bra that prioritises support and protection as you start to heal. After that, it may be helpful to work with a certified mastectomy fitter or bra fitter who can help you find the right bra for your needs. They can also provide guidance on how to properly fit and adjust your bra to ensure optimal support and comfort.
Scarring is a common side effect of lumpectomy, and it could take several months to heal completely. Avoid any exercises that may cause strain or pressure on the surgical site, as this can delay the healing process and increase the risk of infection.
Fatigue is also common after surgery, including lumpectomy, and you may need to modify your exercise routine to accommodate for reduced energy levels. This could include taking more frequent breaks or reducing the duration or intensity of exercise sessions. However, physical activity can assist in reducing fatigue so it is recommended that you do what you can once your doctor has cleared you to start exercising.
Patients often experience a reduced range of motion in the arm or shoulder after a lumpectomy, which can affect certain exercises, such as lifting weights or doing push-ups. Working with a physical therapist or exercise specialist is recommended, as they can develop an individualised exercise plan that takes into account your specific range of motion and limitations.
Some patients may also experience numbness or tingling in the breast or underarm after a lumpectomy, which could affect sensation and mobility in the area. This could be due to nerve damage from the surgery, so you will need to ensure that your doctor has been informed, and avoid any activities that may cause further damage or discomfort.
What Are The Benefits Of Exercising After A Lumpectomy?
One of the primary benefits is improved physical function and quality of life. Studies have shown that exercise can help reduce fatigue, improve mood, and promote overall well-being in breast cancer survivors.
Physical activity can improve strength and flexibility in the affected arm, as well as improve circulation, which assists the healing process and reduces the risk of complications such as blood clots. Exercise can also help reduce the risk of other chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Physical movement can help reduce the risk of lymphedema, a condition that causes swelling in the arm after breast cancer treatment. If you do experience swelling, heaviness, or tightness in your affected arm, alert your healthcare provider as soon as you can. If lymphedema progresses you may develop an infection, however, it can be easily treated if caught early.
In addition to the physical benefits, exercise can also have psychological benefits for breast cancer survivors by helping to reduce stress and anxiety, improve self-esteem, and provide a sense of control over your health. Exercise can also provide an opportunity to connect with others and participate in social activities.
When Can I Start Exercising?
It is essential to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program following surgery. However, generally speaking, patients can begin gentle stretching and range-of-motion exercises within a few days to a week after the procedure, depending on individual circumstances and their doctor's recommendations. Gradually progress to more strenuous exercises as you gain strength and mobility, making sure to listen to your body along the way.
What Exercises Are Recommended After A Lumpectomy?
Range-of-motion exercises can help restore mobility and flexibility in the affected arm and shoulder, and reduce the risk of developing lymphedema. These exercises should be performed gently and gradually, without causing pain or discomfort. Some examples of range-of-motion exercises include arm circles and shoulder rolls.
In the first few weeks after surgery, low-intensity exercises such as walking, stretching, and breathing exercises are recommended. As you progress, you can slowly increase the intensity of your exercise routine. It is advised that you avoid activities that involve repetitive motion or heavy lifting with the affected arm.
Aerobic exercises can help improve cardiovascular fitness, maintain a healthy weight, and promote overall well-being. Low-impact aerobic exercises may include walking, swimming, or stationary cycling.
As you regain strength and mobility, you can also incorporate strength training exercises to help rebuild muscle and improve overall fitness. Once you have your doctor’s approval, you might begin with light weights or resistance bands, and gradually increase the intensity as you become stronger. Other strength training exercise ideas could include bicep curls and tricep extensions.
What Precautions Do I Need To Take When Exercising After A Lumpectomy?
While exercise can have many benefits after a lumpectomy, there are also potential risks that should be considered.
One of the primary risks is the potential for lymphedema, which is swelling in the arm or breast that can occur after breast cancer surgery. While moderate exercise helps to reduce the risk of lymphedema by promoting lymphatic drainage and improving circulation, exercising too vigorously or lifting heavy weights can actually increase the risk of lymphedema.
Another potential risk of exercising after a lumpectomy is injury to the surgical site. It is important to avoid exercises that put too much strain on the chest or arm, and it may be necessary to modify exercises or perform them at a lower intensity to reduce the risk of injury. Listen to your body and avoid any exercises that cause pain or discomfort.
Overall, the benefits of exercising after a lumpectomy outweigh the potential risks for most individuals. It is important to work with a healthcare professional who can provide guidance on safe exercise practices and help develop an individualised exercise plan based on your specific needs and abilities.
Why Is Exercise Important After A Lumpectomy?
Engaging in regular exercise after a lumpectomy can provide significant benefits, including improved blood circulation, reduced side effects, enhanced mobility and flexibility, improved mental health, and overall well-being.
Regular physical activity can help maintain a healthy weight, improve cardiovascular health, and promote overall well-being. Physical activity can also help alleviate side effects of cancer treatments, such as fatigue and depression. Gentle stretching and range-of-motion exercises can restore movement and flexibility to the affected area, which may be limited due to surgery or radiation treatments.
You will often start with exercises to increase mobility soon after surgery, while exercises to increase your strength are usually added further along in your recovery journey. By incorporating a combination of range-of-motion exercises, stretching, strength training, and aerobic activities into your recovery plan, you can work towards improving your physical function, quality of life, and overall health following a lumpectomy.
It is important to consult with your doctor before starting any exercise routine, as well as listening to your body and adjusting your routine as needed. It may also be suggested that you see a physical therapist or an occupational therapist in order to have a tailored exercise plan that is safe and best for you.