Breast cancer survivors think a lot about range of motion after surgery. This is a good thing; our surgeries for breast cancer are often more extensive and invasive than many cancers. It takes time and patience to regain basic range of motion of the shoulder. We do our wall crawl exercises and stretches. But once we regain some shoulder mobility, the work is not over. There’s scar tissue and tightening, and the body’s natural response to want to protect itself – all leading to rounding and weakness of the shoulder. Left unaddressed, this can cause serious postural and structural problems, leading to pain, lack of mobility, and poor balance.
I’ve spoken with women who have recently had surgery. Some of them seem surprised to hear that range of motion is an ongoing issue. It takes constant work, stretching the chest and shoulder, and strengthening the muscles of the upper back and shoulders. Over time, if we don’t pay attention, we can end up with serious postural and structural problems, leading to pain, lack of mobility and poor balance.
I am more than 7 years out from surgery and I still work on it. I constantly have to work to stretch my chest and shoulder. Here are a couple of nice, simple stretches I do all the time, even sitting in my car in traffic.
Stretch for opening the chest & shoulder: Place the hand of the side of your surgery on your shoulder of the same side. Let your elbow hang down by your side. Gently squeeze your shoulder blade while you draw your elbow toward the back. At the same time, turn your head gently toward the opposite shoulder.
Stretch for pectoral muscle and front of shoulder: rest your hand on your forehead (think the fainting woman from the opening credits of Mystery), elbow pointing out to the side, and gently draw your elbow toward the back.
These are really gentle stretches, just hold them for at least 10 seconds and breathe. Just keep at it: you not only want to regain good range of motion after surgery, but you want to keep it.