If you’re reading this, chances are you know first-hand that recovering from surgery is not only a journey of physical rehabilitation but also of mental and emotional healing. Properly guided and planned post-surgery movement therapy—be it yoga, Pilates or dance—should not only help you regain physical strength and mobility but also help you to develop a more cooperative relationship with your body and feel a greater sense of empowerment.

Why less is more

There is a massive amount of literature out there about the importance of building confidence and self-esteem. But where you can really gain some ground (both physically and mentally) is by doing and accomplishing something with your body—working with, not against, it. Through rehabilitative-type movement you can also work on shifting your perspective from fighting back to befriending. In this way your physical and mental rehabilitation will start to become intrinsically connected.

Of course, after so many months (or even years) of feeling tired, weak and at odds with your body, it’s only natural to want to recover as quickly as possible. The problem with this is that if you rush to do big movements and exercise too soon after surgery, you can actually end up feeling worse. Soreness, stiffness and tightness from doing advanced movements too soon are counterproductive, leaving you feeling frustrated and possibly in even more pain.

When building physical strength and confidence post-surgery, the key is patience. True healing most often happens when we adhere to the idiom “less is more.”

How to get started

The best course of action is to start with simple and easy movements—to build range, mobility and a sense of ease in your body. This sets the stage for a fully recovered range of motion in your joints that will allow you to gain strength and confidence faster. Overdoing things, on the other hand, can leave you feeling sore, angry and frustrated.

Here are three movements to begin your post-surgery rehabilitation. Taking these little but highly effective first steps will help you build the foundation for physical strength and mobility while helping you feel confident and in sync with your body again.

Simple exercises that make a big difference

GUIDELINES

This exercise series is designed to recondition your entire body before you return to regular workouts that involve bearing weight on your arms. You should not feel any pulling or ripping sensations. If you feel any strain, make your range of motion smaller. If this does not help, omit the exercise altogether and revisit in a week. Exercises should only be attempted on the recommendation of your physician.

  • Try 6-10 reps of each exercise one after the other, then do three sets of the entire series
  • Start with 3 to 5 times a week

EXERCISES

In this, Part 1 of our three-part series, we focus on the pelvis, spine and shoulder:

Pelvic tilts

  • Lie on your back and make sure you feel comfortable (in the video we use pillows to prop the head, neck and shoulders)
  • Landmark your tailbone and pubic bones and begin to tilt them forward and back (up to the sky and down to the floor). Avoid squeezing your buttocks or your abdominals and focus instead, on how you roll through your spine

With this exercise, there is possibility for movement to cascade all the way up to your neck. Check for this but do not force it to happen if it is not there naturally. As tissues calm down and mobility is restored, you will feel your entire spine move freely with this small motion.

Try 10 to 20 repetitions (reps) and stop if there is any discomfort.

Mid-spine rotations (“Steeple arms”)

  • Lie on your back and reach arms up to the sky over your chest
  • Gently press hands together
  • Start to roll head and upper body side to side
  • Go slowly and keep the rotation small to start; if it feels fluid and continuous, gradually increase your range of motion

Because this exercise focuses on the upper body you may experience some tugging and pulling. Use your judgement and if it feels like the motion is getting easier, continue. If not, stop. After some practice you may enjoy a stretching sensation in your upper back between your shoulder blades. If you find the arm position uncomfortable, try laying your arms across your chest.

Try 10 reps in each direction.

Vertical arm to T arm

  • Lie on your back with arms reaching up to sky over chest
  • Gently press arm bones down into shoulder sockets so they feel settled
  • Open right arm towards the T-position (reaching horizontally to the side) and then back up to vertical

The key is to keep the arm bone heavy in the socket. Expect to feel a tugging/stretching sensation up your arm and across your chest. If this sensation causes discomfort, keep the arm motion small.

Try 6 to 10 reps on each side.

Continue with part two of this series: Building central support after breast cancer surgery

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