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Question about exercising arm after mastectomy

Posts: 130
Joined: Nov 2000

Hi everyone, I was wondering about exercising my arm after a mastectomy. I had surgery Dec. 15th. My doctor told me to walk my fingers up the wall & just keep working at going higher & higher. Does anyone have any other suggestions on things to do to help. I feel like I do pretty good at the time but then when I go back to do it again it is like starting all over again as far as the stretching & pulling. Is this normal? How long should it take to get your arm back in shape & get the strength back in it? I just don't know if I am pushing to hard or not hard enough. I would appreciate your input. Thanks, Judy

pamtriggs's picture
Posts: 407
Joined: Sep 2000

Dear Judy
I had my mastectomy 19/20 years ago & they don't have any better advice now than they did then? It's amazing. If it was a man undergoing this pain they would find a better way of performing mastectomies I am sure. Maybe I'm just being sexist. WHen I had mine I was given no advice at all but discovered the "walk your hand up the wall" trick by myself. I had two kids 5 & 8 at the time so had to get better quickly. It realy depends on how much underarm has been taken & how they have actually cut you. I did the walk up the wall trick at least 10 times everyday and in 3 weeks I was back at work & hanging out the washing by myself again. If the pain does not improve see your surgeon as there may be a post op lesion there causing the pain. Best of luck & keep walking up the wall. Try some positive visualisation as well. Imagaine yourself cheering with raised arms for your favorite NFL team as they score a touchdown. Thinking of you. Love & hugs. Pam

Posts: 292
Joined: Oct 2000

Hi Judy, I had my mastectomy last January, I did the walk up the wall thing, and make sure to move your arm as you walk, I had a tendancy to hug it to my body,raise your arm straight in front of you, and try raising it to your side, but never go past the shoulder heighth, this will help with mobility,and help to prevent lymphedema, which is swelling in the arm, I still get that and it is painful, but I found that if I exercise my arm everyday it is fine. You will be sore for awhile, but as Pam says it depends how many nodes they took too. Keep plugging away at it and before you know it you will be back to normal.
Hugs from Tiger.

Posts: 130
Joined: Nov 2000

Hi Tiger, thanks so much for the advice. I appreciate it. I will keep working hard. I guess I just needed to know I have been doing the right thing. I have been trying to pay more attention to trying to do things with my left arm instead of my right. It is hard to remember since I am right handed. Everyone on this site is so encouraging. Thanks, Judy

Posts: 130
Joined: Nov 2000

Hi Pam, thanks so much for the input. I appreciate it a lot. I have been trying to think of other ways I can get more exercises in. I try to do more with my left arm instead of my right. I don't have any little ones around to chase after. My babies are both grown. I do have two beautiful grandaughters but they live 70 miles away. I'm sure having the kids around you would have to work harder. I know what you mean about the men doing the surgery differently. Men are such babies. My husband is wonderful but when he is sick or hurt he is worse than anyone else in the world. HA!HA! Thanks again. I wish you the best.

sueholm's picture
Posts: 221
Joined: Oct 2000

Judy , so far i had a partial mastectomy with lymph node removal, and i think i tried too hard at first to do the exercises. i ended up causing more pain than necessary i think. once i slowed down, and did just alittle at a time, i progressed quite fast. i did the wall exercise, but also devised some reaches for myself---- a little further with the hairbrush....reaching for the measuring cup on the wall. reaching for the cereal out of the cupboard. i think the literature is too scaring. so long as you keep moving it, a little more each day, you will be fine. that is what i did. susan

Posts: 130
Joined: Nov 2000

Hi Susan, Thanks so much for the advice. I have been trying to be more concious of doing things with my left arm instead of my right although I am right handed. If I need to reach for something I will reach with my left instead of right. Like washing my hair I would find myself leaning my head over instead of stretching my arm over. It hurts but I can tell I am getting better each day. Maybe I just thought I should be better quicker. Thanks again for your input. I appreciate it so much.

Posts: 165
Joined: Dec 2000

Hi again Judy,
I couldn't help but reply again here too.
That is one reason, I do so many repeats of the exercises they
gave me.
I had both breasts removed and lymph nodes on both sides
and since both will be needing radiation, I gotta get those arms

My grandmother had a masectomy in 1967 and she never was
able to raise her arm much agove her shoulder again.
she really hated that gecause she needed to do so much.
I had always lived with her and was off at college at the time,
so she fought through all that alone.
By the way she didn't die of cancer. She had a second heart
attack (the first heart attack was when they found the breast
cancer) but that second attack was 5 years after they told her
that she wouldn't live long after her masectomy.
So keep up the fight. Even back then we strong women defied
all the odds.
If you want the excercise booklet and can't get it from your cancer
society, I will send you one.

Much caring, cher

Posts: 165
Joined: Dec 2000

Hi Judy,
My masectomy was just one week prior to yours.
The doctor gave me that instruction too along with a booklet
from the american caner society is called road to recovery with
about 10 exercies that each target some of the flexibility.
I started them about 5 hours after surgery and it hurt a lot for a couple days,
but then I got very flexible.
If your local cancer society gave you a buddy to help you, call her about the exercise booklet,
or call the sociey and have them email you the info. or where you can print it out from the web.

You can add in the exercises whenever you get them.
If this is repeat of the info that others have already sent you sorry, because I read your message
and jumped in.
Did you start radiation or Chemo yet?
I begin my chemo on Tues (1-9) and have my first consultation with radiologist on 1-10,
but I don't think they intend to do them concurrently although I do know of some people
who have had both concurrently)
The exercises are necessary to get you ready for holding up long term for the set-up for
radiation, as well as for your quality of life.

One warning,
When your stitches come out, don't slow down on your exercises. I got a very bad cold the
day after my stitches came out and only did a few of the exercises for one or two repetitions
for several days. My tendons really tightened up again.

I do a minimun of five repititions (even if they have to be five minutes apart) in each session,
and do at least 3 sessions a day.

Keeping my arms useful is very important to me.
I am very short and being able to reach straight over head is imperative.

Do you want me to add you to my friends?
We are so close in spacing of our surgeries that we will probably be
going trough a lot at the same time.
prayers and hugs,cher

Posts: 130
Joined: Nov 2000

Hi Cher, yes you may add me to your friends list. I went to my surgeon for a check-up today. He said I am doing good. He feels I am a little ahead of normal on the flexibilty of my arm. I can tell each day it is better & stronger. I didn't get any information from the Cancer Society. I had requested it but never recieved it. The doctor told me I can do whatever I feel like. His nurse will call me the first of the week to set me up an appointment with the Oncologist. I am not sure what to expect my treatment will be yet. Sounds like we have a lot in common. I am also short so I know all about that being able to reach high to get things. I had to reschedule my surgery two weeks in a row because I got a bad case of the flu. Just a few days after my surgery I had like a 24 hour stomach virus. I really had a time there for a while. I am really feeling pretty good. I am going to see my granddaughters for the week-end so I am looking forward to that. Thanks so much for responding. It was nice to hear from you. good luck on your treatment. Judy

Posts: 130
Joined: Nov 2000

Hi Cher, I just wanted to let you know that I am not going to have to have chemo or radiation. I am so glad. I am going to start taking tamoxifen though. How are you doing? As far as the arm exercises. My sister had sent me some exercises to do. She had gotten them from school. She just finished Physical Therapy Assistant school. I have started doing them but some of them are a killer. I didn't realize that there was certain ways I had not even been moving my arm, I guess. I can tell the exercises are helping & I am getting better at doing them but my arm is so sore again. It just really pulls from the top of my arm all the way down. Did you have any problems like that? I wish I would have had the other exercises all along & I don't think I would have had that problem. You had mentioned that there was a website to print the exercises from.Would you mind to give that to me just so I can take a look at it. Thanks, Judy

Posts: 165
Joined: Dec 2000

I can't find the web site again.
Try calling th e cancer societies 800 number and ask for the specific web
address of the page for reach for recovery exercises
I would just scan them in and send them off to you but the new version of windows
ate my scanner software again. And with short attention span and typing difficulties caused by this weeks
chemo, I refuse to try to fix computer problems until better. I did that once,
and caught a 3 month old 266 Mh Cyrix I had built from pieces with my
own two little hands on fire. I lost my mind over that one, and swore never to repeat the experience.

I guess I am doing very well. I would like to be perfect but since that isn't an option I just
do the best I can. My range of motion is restricted again due to the port
they put in so I don't damage my bitty little veins with chemo, but the port ists
funny and I can't get my arm on that side up straight or any where near, which
I could before port, it also keeps me from bending right arm across my chest
without popping the port out of its spot which is not at all amusing.
I 'll hav more news on what will happen after I see the port surgeon again on Tuesday.

love, glad you don't have to have chemo or radiation.
keep in touch with all of us, cher

Posts: 16
Joined: Nov 2000

hi judy
it is a good idea to excersize your arm as much as possible. when I had my mastecomy i had a tendency to baby that side plus my friends and family were doing everything for me so I was not forced to use it. I had to go for physical therapy to get it going plus I needed to be able to lift over my head for radiation. my mastectomy was in march 2000 and I have pretty much full use of my arm julie

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