After breast cancer surgery, the first step of Pilates is the Protective Phase, during which breast cancer survivors begin healing through gentle exercises. The exercises should feel easier and there should be no discomfort after about two weeks. At this point, you are ready to move on to Phase 2: Return to Function exercises.

Once you are comfortable with the Phase 1 exercises and medically cleared, add the exercises in Phase 2 to your routine for at least 2 weeks. These exercises include both arm and leg exercises, which should be alternated to decrease fatigue. Begin with three to five repetitions of each exercise, gradually increasing to five to eight, and as always, work within your comfort zone.

Below are two examples of exercises that will help rebuild functionality in your arms following breast cancer surgery.

 

Exercise 1: Arm Scissors

The goal of arm scissors (modified version demonstrated in the image above) is to increase range of motion and stability in your shoulders, useful for washing windows, pulling down a shade, and putting on and taking off a hat.

Contraindications: If you are undergoing a breast implant expander program, omit this exercise.

Equipment: Pad, small pillow, towel, or block under head if needed. Optional medium-sized ball (squeezing the ball between your knees will help to activate the pelvic floor and transverse abdominis muscles and prevent your knees from collapsing in).

Start:

  • Lie on your back with both knees bent and feet on the ground, hip distance apart.
  • Pelvis is level with the floor or slightly tilted toward your nose if you have back problems.
  • Arms are reaching toward the ceiling at shoulder height with palms facing one another.
  • Optional: Squeeze ball between your knees.

Exercise:

  • Inhale to start, and then exhale to lift your right arm over your head.
  • Inhale to bring your right arm down to your side.
  • Exhale to lift your left arm over your head.
  • Inhale to lower your left arm to your side while raising your right arm over your head.
  • Continue alternating arms.

NOTE: Be sure to...

  • Keep your rib cage and shoulder blades down and flush against the mat. Work within your comfort zone.

Modification for an Added Challenge

  • Add light hand weights (1–2 lb). If you are undergoing a breast implant expander program or TRAM or DIEP flap reconstruction, do not use weights until cleared by your doctor.

 

Exercise 2: Hundred, Feet Down

The goals of Hundreds are to strengthen the scapular (shoulder blade) muscles, and to improve shoulder strength as well as the abdominal muscles.

Pilates - Functionality Exercise (2)

Contraindications: If you have osteoporosis in the spine, do this exercise with head down. Do not lift head off mat.

Equipment: Pad, small pillow, towel, or block under head if needed. Optional medium-sized ball (squeezing the ball between your knees will help to activate the pelvic floor and transverse abdominis muscles and prevent your knees from collapsing in).

Start:

  • Lie on your back with both knees bent and feet on the ground, hip distance apart.
  • Pelvis is level with the floor or slightly tilted toward your nose if you have back problems.
  • Arms are long at your sides.
  • Optional: Squeeze ball between your knees.

Exercise:

  • Inhale as you gently nod your chin to your chest.
  • Exhale as you lift upper body and shoulders off the floor while stretching your arms toward your feet. Look at your belly button and keep your neck relaxed.
  • Pump your arms from the back of your shoulders as you inhale for five breaths, and then exhale for five breaths. That is one cycle of 10.
  • Repeat the cycle 10 times for a complete Hundred or do as many cycles as you are able.

NOTE: Be sure to...

  • Make the movement come from the scapular muscles, not the elbows or head. You can support your head with one hand if necessary to protect the neck.