Exercise after a mastectomy

How soon can you exercise after a mastectomy?

Mar 29, 2021

Healing after a mastectomy is an individual process, how long will you take?

This answer is of course, "it depends".  There are many varieties of breast surgery due to breast cancer (including prophylactic mastectomies for people who've tested positive for the breast cancer gene and want to take their breasts off as a preventative measure) and they take varying times to recover from.


General Guidelines for exercising after mastectomy:

After a Lumpectomy:

If you are a positive person in "good health" (aside from breast cancer, that is) prior to your diagnosis and you've had a single lumpectomy, your healing time is the fastest, and you may be back to daily function within a month, doing walking cardio within a week, more vigorous cardio (ie: stationary bike sitting up without arms) within 3-4 weeks, lifting weights within 6-8 weeks (provided your surgeon approves). 

Radiation + lumpectomy is the most common surgical type, and radiation side effects vary from person to person.  You will likely have more healing challenges from radiation than the lumpectomy itself, provided you don't get an infection or complication within the surgical site. 


After a Double Mastectomy with Expanders:

If you're at the other end of the scale, getting a double mastectomy with expanders and have additional mental and physical health stressors, your healing time may be longer because you have to start from "square one" with making room in your chest to fit implants - hence the expanders - as well as navigate your healing with significant additional stressors, so you may be upwards of 2 months or more before walking cardio, and 4 months or more before more vigorous exercise.  


If you fall in between our two examples:

The Mastectomy Guide's 14-week program timeline is our general recommended timeline for a woman having a double mastectomy with reconstruction, and in reasonable health (outside of cancer) to be able to return to function and exercise.   

If your surgery was lighter, you can do the whole program in a condensed time frame, such as 6 - 8 weeks.  If your surgery was heavier, you may take longer than the 14 weeks.  This is fine, as long as you are practicing mindful self-care. 

Tip: It's better to be the tortoise than the hare in healing from a mastectomy.  Slow and steady wins the race is true in this situation, because you keep building on success and your recovery can snowball over time.  If you try to do too much too fast, you can trigger a healing crisis and suffer significant set backs. 

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