Skip to main navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer For Medicare For Providers For Brokers For Employers Español For Individuals & Families: For Individuals & Families Medical Dental Other Supplemental Explore coverage through work How to Buy Health Insurance Types of Dental Insurance Open Enrollment vs. Special Enrollment See all topics Shop for Medicare plans Member Guide Find a Doctor Log in to myCigna
Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library Exercises After Breast Cancer Surgery

Exercises After Breast Cancer Surgery


After breast cancer surgery, you may feel some pain going down your arm. Your shoulder and arm may be stiff and hard to move. You may also have some loss of feeling there.

Take good care of your arm on the side of your surgery. Your doctor or physical therapist can teach you arm exercises that will help you move your arm as you always have. But be careful not to overuse your arm. For example, do not lift anything heavy with your arm until your doctor says it is okay. Some basic exercises, such as shoulder shrugs and elbow circles, will help you start moving your arm.

How do you do the exercises?

How do you do the exercises?

How to stay safe

  • Do not start to exercise until your doctor says it is okay. This is especially true if you have a drain or had a breast reconstruction. Ask when it is safe for you to start doing each exercise.
  • If you are not sure how to do an exercise, don't start it until your doctor or physical therapist shows you exactly how to do it.
  • Stop exercising if your arm or chest area hurts or begins to swell. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms. Also call your doctor if you have problems doing an exercise or it hurts.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing while you do your exercises.
  • Use your arm for your usual activities, such as brushing your teeth and hair.

How to do the exercises

Belly breathing (diaphragmatic breathing)

slide 1 of 8
slide 1 of 8, Belly breathing (diaphragmatic breathing),
  1. Lie on your back. You can put a small rolled towel behind your neck or use a pillow for comfort. Or you can prop yourself up on several pillows.
  2. Put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose. When you breathe in, push your belly out as far as possible. You should feel the hand on your belly move out, while the hand on your chest does not move.
  4. Breathe out slowly through your mouth. When you breathe out, you should feel the hand on your belly move in.

Practice this breathing method 3 or 4 times a day for about 10 minutes each time.

When you can do this type of breathing well while lying down, learn to do it while sitting or standing.

Shoulder shrug

slide 2 of 8
slide 2 of 8, Shoulder shrug,
  1. Sit or stand up straight. Relax your arms, and keep them relaxed.
  2. Shrug your shoulders toward your ears. Relax and let your shoulders settle back down.
  3. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Shoulder roll

slide 3 of 8
slide 3 of 8, Shoulder roll,
  1. Sit or stand up straight with your chin slightly tucked.
  2. Keep your arms relaxed. All motion will be in your shoulders.
  3. Roll your shoulders up, then back, then down, then forward in a smooth, circular motion.
  4. Then go the other direction. Press your shoulders down, then back, then up, and then forward in a smooth, circular motion.
  5. Repeat at least 2 to 4 times in each direction.

Arm sweep

slide 4 of 8
slide 4 of 8, Arm sweep,
  1. Sit or stand tall, with your arms at your sides and your palms facing forward.
  2. Sweep both arms up to the sides as high as you can. Try not to shrug your shoulders.
  3. Slowly sweep your arms back down to your sides.
  4. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Overhead reach

slide 5 of 8
slide 5 of 8, Overhead reach,
  1. Stand or sit up straight. Keep your elbows straight and clasp your hands together.
  2. Raise your arms straight up toward the ceiling. Try not to shrug your shoulders.
  3. Slowly lower your arms to the starting position.
  4. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Shoulder-blade squeeze

slide 6 of 8
slide 6 of 8, Shoulder-blade squeeze,
  1. Sit or stand up straight with your arms at your sides.
  2. Keep your shoulders relaxed and down, not shrugged.
  3. Squeeze your shoulder blades down and together.
  4. Hold for about 6 seconds, then relax.
  5. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Wall climb to the front

slide 7 of 8
slide 7 of 8, Wall climb to the front,
  1. Face a wall, standing so your fingers can just touch it.
  2. Keeping your shoulder down (don't shrug), walk the fingers of your affected arm up the wall as high as pain permits.
  3. Hold that position for at least a few seconds.
  4. Slowly walk your fingers back down.
  5. Repeat 2 to 4 times. Try to reach a little higher each time. When you are able to reach higher, you can take a step toward the wall as you walk your fingers up, then step back as you walk your fingers back down.

Elbow circles

slide 8 of 8
slide 8 of 8, Elbow circles,
  1. Sit or stand with your feet slightly apart.
  2. Put your right hand on your right shoulder, and your left hand on your left shoulder. Your elbows should be at shoulder level and pointing out.
  3. Make about 8 circles with your elbows. Start with a small circle and make each circle a little bigger.
  4. Change direction and repeat your circles.
  5. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

© 1995-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Related Links

Mastectomy (Removal of the Breast) for Breast Cancer Breast Cancer, Metastatic or Recurrent Breast Cancer

<cipublic-spinner variant="large"><span>Loading…</span></cipublic-spinner>

Page Footer

I want to...

Get an ID card File a claim View my claims and EOBs Check coverage under my plan See prescription drug list Find an in-network doctor, dentist, or facility Find a form Find 1095-B tax form information View the Cigna Glossary Contact Cigna


Individuals and Families Medicare Employers Brokers Providers

Secure Member Sites

myCigna member portal Health Care Provider portal Cigna for Employers Client Resource Portal Cigna for Brokers

The Cigna Group Information

About Cigna Healthcare Company Profile Careers Newsroom Investors Suppliers The Cigna Group Third Party Administrators International Evernorth

 Cigna. All rights reserved.

Privacy Legal Product Disclosures Cigna Company Names Customer Rights Accessibility Non-Discrimination Notice Language Assistance [PDF] Report Fraud Sitemap Cookie Settings


Individual and family medical and dental insurance plans are insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (CHLIC), Cigna HealthCare of Arizona, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of Illinois, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of Georgia, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of North Carolina, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of South Carolina, Inc., and Cigna HealthCare of Texas, Inc. Group health insurance and health benefit plans are insured or administered by CHLIC, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (CGLIC), or their affiliates (see a listing of the legal entities that insure or administer group HMO, dental HMO, and other products or services in your state). Accidental Injury, Critical Illness, and Hospital Care plans or insurance policies are distributed exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, are administered by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, and are insured by either (i) Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (Bloomfield, CT); (ii) Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”) (Philadelphia, PA); or (iii) New York Life Group Insurance Company of NY (“NYLGICNY”) (New York, NY), formerly known as Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York. The Cigna name, logo, and other Cigna marks are owned by Cigna Intellectual Property, Inc. LINA and NYLGICNY are not affiliates of Cigna.

All insurance policies and group benefit plans contain exclusions and limitations. For availability, costs and complete details of coverage, contact a licensed agent or Cigna sales representative. This website is not intended for residents of New Mexico.

Selecting these links will take you away from to another website, which may be a non-Cigna website. Cigna may not control the content or links of non-Cigna websites. Details