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Moving Along After Breast Cancer



Tips for exercise after breast cancer treatment

Life after breast cancer treatment is challenging in many ways, and beginning to exercise again may feel overwhelming. Despite months of total focus on healing your body, you may feel you have lost touch with your body. You may have stiffness, loss of strength and even weight gain (yes!) from chemotherapy. Lockey Maisonneuve, a breast cancer survivor and founder of Moving On from Cancer, a rehabilitative exercise program, hears it all the time: “It’s frustrating to find that we fought to get to the end of treatment only to find that we can’t jump back in to life the way we thought we would be able to. It’s debilitating emotionally and physically.” Fortunately, an exercise program can really help you regain movement and boost your self-esteem. Here are a few tips from Lockey on how to begin.

At the end of treatment, go back to basics and rebuild both body and mind. I highly recommend starting with exercise that increases range of motion and correcting postural alignment. Yoga and gentle stretching are great places to begin. Any exercise program that supports reconnection between mind/body will enable us to not only focus what we need to correct, but support us in reconnecting on what we can do.

If you’ve had breast surgery you may have these side effects:

Rounded Shoulder – After surgery, scar tissue and/or adhesions may develop across the chest wall, causing tightness and rounding of the shoulders.

Winged Scapula – After an axillary lymph node dissection, the serratus anterior may be weak, causing the shoulder blade to protrude from the body.

Kyphosis (head tilted forward) – Following a mastectomy, the tightening of the chest wall and the “guarded” position some women will take after surgery will cause the head to lean forward, causing neck pain.

Forward Flexion – In the case of a tram flap procedure, it may be difficult to stand erect.

Lordosis – In the case of a tram flap, curvature of the spine (‘swayback’) may happen due to weakened core muscles.

All of these side effects can be managed and even corrected by starting with gentle rehabilitative exercises.

I highly recommend group exercise. Exercising in a group dynamic creates an automatic support system. Usually, survivors who are seeking an exercise program are positive and want to move forward. They want to focus on what’s working in their body more than what isn’t working. By exercising in a group, survivors start to see themselves in each other, which is empowering to anyone.

See a certified bra fitter to choose a correct bra for you. If you had a mastectomy without reconstruction, be sure to wear a prosthetic during exercise because not wearing a prosthetic can cause imbalance in posture.

Here are two of my favorite rehabilitative exercises.

Shoulder Roll – Pull shoulders up (shrug), then pull them back and drop them down.

Chest opening stretch – Bend arms with your hands on your ears. Gently “squeeze” your elbows apart.


Advice from Lockey Maisonneuve

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