Exercising after breast cancer
By Sonia Duggan
Many survivors wonder if it’s safe to return to the exercise regimens they followed prior to being diagnosed. Depending on the exercise, and the type of cancer, most often the answer is yes.
The American Cancer Society recommends women exercise after surgery to get their arms and shoulders moving again. The ACS notes that exercise can be especially important to women who underwent radiation therapy after surgery, as radiation can affect movement in the arm and shoulder long after treatment has ended. Regular exercise after radiation can help women maintain mobility in their arms and shoulders.
Those who have had surgery may be at risk of lymphedema, a condition characterized by swelling of the soft tissues of the arm, hand, trunk, or breast. That swelling is sometimes accompanied by discomfort and numbness. If the patient is taking yoga, breastcancer.org recommends a yoga instructor who has experience with breast cancer patients will know which yoga types and poses are safe.
The nonprofit recently conducted a study which suggests that practicing Tibetan yoga twice a week may improve sleep in women being treated with chemotherapy for breast cancer. Tibetan yoga is similar to other types of yoga in that it involves a series of poses, also called postures, and links breathing to movement and meditation.
Exercising after breast cancer surgery can restore movement, but it’s important that women take into account the following pointers, courtesy of the ACS, before beginning a regimen.
• Speak with your physician. Discuss exercise with your physician after undergoing surgery. Doctors may prescribe physical or occupational therapy, and some may even refer patients to cancer exercise specialists. Simply jumping back into your pre-surgery exercise routine can be dangerous, so bring up exercise immediately after surgery or during a follow up visit.
• Expect some tightness. Doctors may suggest women begin exercising a week or more after undergoing breast cancer surgery. It’s normal to feel some tightness in the chest and armpit after surgery, but the tightness will begin to subside as you exercise. Report any persistent tightness or pain to a physician immediately.
• Some burning, tingling, numbness, or soreness may also occur. These symptoms may be felt on the back of the arm and/or on the chest wall and are often a result of the surgery irritating some of your nerves. The sensations of burning, tingling, numbness, and soreness may even increase a few weeks after surgery. But the ACS advises women to keep exercising through these symptoms unless they notice unusual swelling or tenderness, which should be reported to physicians right away.
• Exercise after a warm shower. A warm shower may warm and relax muscles, making exercise less painful.
• Take it slowly. If you were an exercise enthusiast prior to your diagnosis, you must recognize that returning to your pre-cancer regimen may not be possible, or that it’s likely to take a while before you feel like your old self again. Take a gradual approach, allowing yourself to build strength and not expecting results to appear overnight.
Exercising after surviving breast cancer can promote recovery provided survivors are extra careful as they work to get back on track.