Breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer among women in the U.S., and over 100,000 women in the U.S. undergo some form of mastectomy for the surgical treatment of breast cancer each year. If you or someone you know is one of those women, you may be considering the path to recovery post-mastectomy and how physical activity can be a part of that plan. (Read more: 11 Indications of Breast Cancer Everyone Should Be Aware Of)
Beth Nicely, trainer to celebrities like Jennifer Garner and Nicole Kidman, collaborated with physical therapist Dani Luna, D.P.T., to develop an exercise series for individuals recuperating from mastectomy surgery on her fitness platform, The Limit. The 12-week program is now accessible for free online for anyone interested in trying it.
A mastectomy is a breast cancer surgery that involves the removal of the breast, according to the American Cancer Society. The recovery period varies depending on the specific procedures performed and whether the breast or breasts were reconstructed. Some patients may resume their normal activities after just four weeks, while others may take months to regain their full capacity. The Limit’s program is suitable for patients throughout their entire recovery from mastectomy surgery and other breast surgeries, such as lumpectomies, according to Nicely.
Nicely, a NASM-certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, and certified pre/postnatal specialist based in New York City, has worked with cancer survivors who have undergone mastectomies. She explains that she typically conducts research to assist her clients during their recovery from an injury or medical procedure. When she sought advice for women who have recently had a mastectomy, Nicely only found information tailored to the first six weeks following surgery on the internet. There was a lack of suggestions for what to do afterwards.
Therefore, Nicely and Luna embarked on creating a better resource. “We wanted it to be accessible to everyone,” says Nicely, emphasizing that the program will be available on The Limit’s website for the foreseeable future. Users can enter the code “SURVIVOR” to gain free access to the 12-week series.
The course is crafted for patients to commence between three and seven days post-op and is intended for all levels — irrespective of an individual’s personal level of fitness prior to surgery. Over the span of 12 weeks, each session focuses on exercises to aid in enhancing blood circulation, enhancing range of motion, reclaiming mobility, and fortifying the body. The videos feature four survivors of breast cancer who have all undergone mastectomies performing the exercises alongside Nicely.
The workouts are rather gentle and progress towards a complete 30-minute class and working up to holding a plank, according to Nicely. The program also takes into special consideration the vast disparities in experiences with surgery and accounts for different elements of reconstruction, post-surgical drains, implant placement, and other factors.
“Any physical activity following cancer can be beneficial,” Tara Sanft, M.D., associate professor of medicine (medical oncology) at the Yale Cancer Center, who leads research into the influence of exercise on cancer treatment and outcomes, tells Shape. “It can assist in recovering from surgery, [and] it can help alleviate side effects from surgery.” Exercise can aid in improving sleep quality, minimizing anxiety, and boosting energy levels, she explains.
Other experts concur. “It is actually crucial to be able to engage in physical activity after mastectomy surgery, as long as those exercises [and] those stretches are prescribed by somebody who has experience working with individuals who have had mastectomy surgery,” says Scott Capozza, P.T., M.S.P.T., a board-certified specialist in oncologic physical therapy who works for Yale New Haven Hospital and Smilow Cancer Hospital. “You do not want to do too much too soon, but you do not want to be completely immobilized,” he adds.
Like many procedures, breast surgeries differ, and consequently, an individual’s recovery duration varies. “If someone undergoes a lumpectomy [a breast-conserving surgery], they will be able to return to activity more rapidly,” says Capozza. “But if someone undergoes a bilateral mastectomy with a DIEP flap reconstruction, that will necessitate more time to heal.”
First and foremost, it is vital to commence exercising in a safe manner, says Dr. Sanft, emphasizing that patients should consult with their care team and surgeon when contemplating steps to take during the recovery period. “I think the optimal course of action would be to bring this [exercise program] to the attention of your healthcare team and inquire, ‘I have been pondering this and I wanted to make sure that the team concurs with this,'” she advises.
Capozza and Nicely echo this sentiment. “Ensure that you have approval from your physician before engaging in physical activity,” notes Nicely in a statement about her program.
If you or someone you know is seeking a exercise plan following mastectomy, The Limit’s 12-week recovery program may be worth exploring (with the approval of a doctor, naturally).
Thanks for your feedback!