Is Exercise For Me Post Breast Reconstruction

By: Lisabeth Garcia, ACSM-CPT, ACSM-CIFT-Guest Blogger


Should you exercise after breast reconstruction surgery? 

Importance of Exercise

Exercise stimulates blood flow, increases oxygen delivery, lowers cardiovascular risk factors associated with inactivity, decreases anxiety, and lowers stress. More specifically, it can help restore and maintain range of motion to help support functional activity levels. Exercise aids in maintaining strength, balance, and quality of life. Inactivity can aggravate many symptoms, including pain due to weakness or muscle imbalances

Overcoming Exercise Barriers

The biggest challenges when beginning an exercise program are pain, fatigue, lymphedema, and scar tissue. Working at a challenging intensity is tough; we are all different, our pain tolerances are different, and what increases our pain is different. To battle fatigue, choose days of the week where you typically have more energy, especially when just starting an exercise program. Choose times of the day where energy levels are higher. Try beginning with 10-15 minutes of exercise 3 times per week. Take your time! Be patient with yourself!

With many reconstructive surgeries, and with many treatments, lymph nodes may need to be removed, or their function is altered. This results in swelling, especially with exertion. Along with special garments, there are several exercises to help increase circulation and reduce fluid buildup. We can use the contraction of our muscles to aid circulation.

Trauma to the body is going to produce some amounts of scar tissue. Scar tissue is not elastic and can be painful to move. While some of it is necessary, it can also restrict motion. Restoring motion can be very painful. Certain exercises can help break up unwanted scar tissue. When exercising, if you feel a sharp sensation pulling through a movement, be gentle and listen to your body. Range of motion can usually be re-established over time.

Reconstruction and Exercise

There are many types of reconstruction. Each one affects the body differently. The biggest changes to take into consideration are the effects of scar tissue, and muscles feeling different. Certain movements may not feel the same as they did prior to reconstruction. By monitoring pain and being patient with ourselves, we can typically slowly restore all range of motion and begin to improve strength.

Garments & Special Considerations

To address lymphedema, special sleeves have been designed to help reduce swelling. While this is not a “fix” it can aid in making swelling easier to recognize and manage. When first beginning an exercise program, care should be taken to monitor any swelling which may be exercise induced. When and if swelling begins, adjust and adapt accordingly. If swelling persists, it may be time for a break.

Types of Exercise

Exercises that are easy on the joints are a great place to start rebuilding range of motion and strength. Great suggestions are aquatic based classes and balance inspired classes such as Tai Chi. Continue exercise as tolerated. Overall, there are no specific types of exercise that should be prohibited if your body is adapting and responding well. Each person is different, and the specific exercise program for them is going to be based on overall health history.

For more information regarding reaching your fitness goals after breast reconstruction, feel free to email me at [email protected]

Should you exercise after breast reconstruction surgery?

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