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Arm Exercises

Post-Mastectomy (Breast Surgery) and Reconstruction

These instructions can be followed if you have had the following surgery.


Mastectomy (breast surgery)


  • With breast reconstruction

  • Without breast reconstruction

  • Delayed reconstruction

If you have had breast reconstruction, speak to your doctor or physiotherapist before starting and continuing with these exercises, follow their instructions. 

Limit movement while you are still healing from surgery, a range of motion restrictions to aid the healing process. Your health care team will be able to advise you of how much you should restrict your movement post surgery during the healing process. 


Please be advised, some might be ready for these exercises earlier than others. Always check with your health care team or doctor when it is safe to do these exercises. This is only meant as a guide.


Doing arm and shoulder exercises will help you gain your full motion back. The range of motion is how you can safely move parts of your body. Your full range of motion will allow you to raise your arm above your head, touch the middle of your back and move your arm at the back of your neck. 


Repeat these exercises 3 times a day until you have the movement back you had prior to surgery. Once your mobility has been regained, do these exercises once a day. Especially if you still feel tightness in your chest, arm and shoulder. 


A stretching or pulling sensation is normal when doing these exercises, but you should not be feeling any pain. If you do experience pain it is best to stop the exercises and consult your doctor or healthcare team. 


  • Shoulder shrug

  • Shoulder circling

  • Bent arm

  • Back scratching

  • Arm wing

  • Wall climbing

  • Arm lifts

  • Elbow push


Warming up

1. Shoulder shrug

  • Raise both of your shoulders as high as you can, up to your ears and gently lower back down. 

  • Hold for 5 counts. Release. 

2. Shoulder circling

  • Keep your arms relaxed next to your sides. 

  • Shrug your shoulders up to your ears. Gently circle them back and down. 

Basic Exercises

3. Bent arm

  • Place both your arms forward so that they make a right angle to your body. Bend your elbow, gently resting your hands on your shoulders. 

  • Slowly lower your elbows, then raise them again. 


4. Back scratching

  • Hold your arms out to the side, bending your arms by your elbows. 

  • Slowly reach your arm up behind your back.


5. Arm wing

  • Place your elbows in front of your face, holding your hands behind your head. 

  • Bring your elbows back that they are pointing out to the sides. Return to the starting position.


Advanced Exercises

6. Wall climbing

  • Feet apart, stand close to and facing a wall.

  • Both hands on the wall at shoulder level.

  • Looking forward, slowly and gradually move your hands up the wall. Sliding your arms or using your fingers to climb the wall. Only go as far as you can, feeling the stretch but no pain. Hold for 10 counts. 

  • Slide your hands back to the shoulder level before repeating the exercise. Try to move higher every time. 

  • Stand sideways against the wall. Place your hand on the wall, relaxed shoulders, keeping your elbow bent. Looking forward, slowly and gradually move your hands up the wall as far as you can go, allowing your elbows to straighten. Hold for 10 counts and lower your hand back down. 


7. Arm lifts

  • Lie flat on your back, on a bed or the floor with a pillow to support your head.

  • Whilst lying down, take 3 or 4 deep breaths, concentrating on relaxing your shoulders, flat against the floor, do not hunch your shoulders.

  • Place your palms against one another with your fingers lined up against one another. Keep your elbows straight and lift your arms up over your head as far as is comfortable. Hold for 10 counts. Lower your arms slowly back to the starting position. Use the pillow as support until you are ready to take your arms further back. 


If you find this position difficult while lying down or feel like you are losing your breath, rather sit in a comfortable chair doing this exercise. 

8. Elbow push

  • Lie on the flat of your back, interlace your fingers behind your head and your elbows out to the sides. 

  • Gently push your elbows down into the floor or the bed, as far as is comfortable. Hold for 10 counts and relax.  

9. Neural stretch

  • Stand up straight. Hold out your arm with your palm facing up. 

  • Slowly bend your wrist and fingers down. Hold for 4 counts and relax. Take a breath in between. Repeat. Never hold a neural stretch for more than 4 counts.

This exercise is particularly helpful if you are undergoing radiotherapy, the treatment is often done in the same position as this exercise. 

If you still struggle with your mobility and or shoulder problems 4 weeks after surgery, consult your doctor and they will be able to advise if further physical and or occupational therapy is needed in order to restore full mobility. 

If swelling persists for 4 to 6 weeks after surgery, contact your doctor or healthcare team. 

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