A mastectomy is the surgical removal of your entire breast as the result of breast cancer. The five different types of mastectomy include simple or total mastectomy, radical, modified radical, partial and subcutaneous mastectomy. Since each procedure requires the removal of breast tissue and possible surrounding lymph nodes, the surgery may result in scarring. This scarring may become tight, uncomfortable and sometimes painful. Certain techniques and exercises may help you retain some flexibility following surgery and prevent the buildup of excessive scar tissue. Consult with your healthcare provider prior to engaging in these exercises.
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Engaging in physical therapy as early as possible after your surgery may help reduce the amount of scar tissue that might develop. Physical therapy may keep your surgical site mobile, thereby improving your range of motion. This form of exercise and stretching therapy may also reduce nerve pain and numbness associated with your surgical scars. A physical therapist may help prevent skin tightness and axillary web syndrome — a condition that can cause pain and restricted movement if you have had lymph nodes removed as part of your surgery.
Your physical therapist might recommend some stretching exercises for you to do at home. To perform the zipper stretch, sit upright in a chair or stand while doing this exercise. Without arching your back, reach behind your back with the arm on the same side of your body you had surgery. Slowly — to the count of 10 — raise your arm upward as if you are attempting to "zip" up your spine from your low back up toward your bra strap. Repeat three times and perform this exercise up to two times daily.
This exercise may help you maintain your mobility and reduce tightening of scar tissue. Stand in an unobstructed corner of the room facing the wall. Place each of your hands at shoulder height on each opposing wall. With your feet flat on the floor, keep your abdomen flexed and your body straight as you slowly ease your forehead and chest in towards the corner. Count to 10 then bring your body back to the starting position. Repeat three times and perform this exercise up to two times per day.
Find a Physical Therapist
Look for a qualified, licensed practitioner in your area. You can talk to your doctor and request a referral. Ask for a physical therapist that has experience with or specializes in treating cancer patients or women that have had a mastectomy. You can also contact the American Physical Therapy association to find a qualified physical therapist in your area that specializes in oncology.