The Integrated Breast Center at Pennsylvania Hospital
About the Center | Programs & Treatments | Supportive Care | Clinical Research | Resources
Programs and Treatments
Bloodless Medicine & Surgery
Cancer Risk Evaluation Program
Geriatric Oncology
GYN Oncology
HIV Oncology Program
Inpatient Oncology
Integrated Breast Center

About Our Team

Oncology Nurse Navigator

Services We Offer

Clinical Research

Resources for Patients
Health Information:

Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

Lymphedema Following Breast Surgery

Management of Cancer

Exercises after Surgery
Medical Oncology
Pathology Services
Post-treatment Services
Radiation Oncology
Radiology Services
Sarcoma Program
Second Opinion
Stem Cell Transplant Program
Surgical Oncology
<< Back to ACC at PAH home page

Post-Breast Surgery Exercises

Get in Shape – Gentle Exercises for after Breast Surgery
After breast surgery, your range of arm and shoulder movement is often restricted. Depending on the extent of your surgery, you may also feel a pulling sensation in the underarm area. It’s never too late to improve your mobility and flexibility - these exercises vary in levels of difficulty but are part of a widely used exercise program for after breast surgery. Start slowly and gradually increase the number of repetitions. Check with your medical team before starting and get on track for a healthier, more active lifestyle!

Make sure to observe the following instructions when performing exercises after breast surgery:

  • Perform exercises slowly – 15 repetitions, 3-4 times per day.
  • Some pain is expected and you can use pain medication if needed.
  • Use your arm for daily activities (combing hair, clasping bra, reaching into cabinets, etc.)
  • PRECAUTIONS: Do not pull beyond the incisional pain. If there is drainage from the incision or the incision opens, notify your surgeon. You can relieve some chest wall tightness with gentle massage.

Hair Brushing

This can be started soon after the surgery, while in hospital. Rest the arm on a firm surface such as the bedside table or locker. Keep the head and shoulder upright and start by brushing hair on one side upwards and to the side. Gradually increase to cover the whole head.

Hand Squeezing

This exercise helps to prevent or reduce temporary swelling in the arm. Take a small rubber ball or similar object in the palm of your hand and make a fist around the ball, squeeze gently and relax. The ball should be firm enough to have to exert some pressure but soft enough to give a little when squeezed.

Arm Circling

Rest the unaffected arm on a firm surface such as a table or back of a chair and bend forward at the waist. Allow the affected arm to hang loosely from the shoulder and swing backwards and forwards, from side to side and then in small circles. Gradually increase the size of the circles as the arm becomes more relaxed.

Bra Fastening

Imitate the movements used to fasten a bra at back; stand with the feet apart for balance and extend the arms to shoulder level. Slowly bend the arms from the elbows, bringing the hands closer to the body to join behind the back. Raise the hands and repeat.


Hold a scarf or towel stretched diagonally along the back, one hand at shoulder level and the other at hip level. Imitate a back drying motion, moving the hand from shoulder to head and lower. Change hands and repeat in reverse so that the other arm is higher. The towel should be long enough to fully straighten one arm.

Wall Climbing

This exercise helps to improve forward motion in the shoulder. Stand close to and facing a wall, with the feet apart for balance. Place hands flat against the wall close to shoulder level and gradually try to raise hands higher up the wall. Slowly, bring the hands back to shoulder level and repeat.

Mark the wall at the highest point reached each day. Sometimes it may be hard to reach the previous day’s mark – don’t be discouraged, simply try again later in the day.

Door Pulley

This exercise helps to improve forward motion in the shoulder. Hang a rope or cord over the top of an open door. Sit on the floor with the door held firmly between the legs, holding the lower end of the cord in the hand on the side of your surgery.

Hold the higher end in the other hand. Gently pull the higher hand down and raise the lower arm, repeating gradually and raising a little higher each time until full stretch has been achieved.


appointment icon

Need an appointment? Request one online 24 hours/day, 7 days/week or call 800-789-PENN (7366) to speak to a referral counselor.

Related Links
Find a Cancer Specialist
Request an Appointment Online or call
800-789-PENN (7366)
Pennsylvania Hospital Visitor Information
Give Now to JKCC
Encyclopedia Articles about Cancer




About Penn Medicine   Contact Us   Site Map   Privacy Statement   Legal Disclaimer   Terms of Use

Penn Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 800-789-PENN © 2015, The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania space