These exercises are designed to give you some initial ideas to start on after surgery. After surgery there are often MANY restrictions (i.e. no reaching overhead, no pushing up with your arms), so please be sure you discuss these exercises with your medical team and receive clearance before attempting them. These are meant to try and prevent you from stiffening up and feeling uncomfortable, but are not a substitute for an evaluation and treatment in the clinic from a Physical Therapist or other licensed provider. They should not be painful – you should only move into the range where you feel a stretch! Again, this is what worked for my body, but it may not work for yours. Always listen to your own body and your medical team.
This stretch is the stepping stone to working on your posture after surgery. We often will feel protective of our chest after surgery (understandably!), but that often leads to a “slouched” position that can make your chest feel even tighter. This is super simple, can be done anywhere, and I recommend trying to do 10 repetitions every hour or so to start building your good posture habits again.
-While sitting or standing, think about being as upright/tall as possible, and then squeeze shoulder blades back to feel a slight stretch in the chest. Hold briefly, and then relax.
-You should feel muscles around your shoulder blades working, while the front feels like a gentle stretch.
-Make sure not to let your shoulders shrug up!
Immediately after surgery you will likely not be allowed to reach arms overhead (and you probably won’t really want to try anyway). However, this stretch can help you start to gently move your arms in that direction. We call this “active assisted” because your arms aren’t working alone, so it’s much more gentle. This will gently help you stay mobile so that once you ARE allowed to raise your arms, you will hopefully not feel too tight! You could do both arms at the same time, or just do one at a time. Try to do 10-15 slow slides, about 2 times a day, and work up from there.
-Sit or stand at the kitchen table or counter top or bed, place one or both hands on the surface, and gently slide your hands forward until you feel a stretch in your armpit and side.
-Hold briefly and then return to the starting position.
-If you don’t feel comfortable sliding your hands, you can keep your hands in one spot but walk your body back to get the same stretch.
-You could also sit at a table to do this if that’s more comfortable!
This stretch is often used to gently mobilize the low back, but what you’ll also notice is that your stomach and sides also feel a stretch as you rock knees side to side! The tissue in these areas can feel tight from sitting a lot while recovering, or from having drains in, so this is a nice way to gently address that. If you had any sort of abdominal flap surgery (i.e. DIEP), I would hold off on this until your incisions are healed – you don’t want to pull on it before it’s ready! I usually try to do 20 slow rocks (10 to each side), about 2 times a day, and work up from there.
-Lie on your back (or propped up on pillows if needed), with knees bent.
-Gently rock both knees to one side until you feel a stretch in your side, hold briefly and then bring knees back to the middle and rotate to the opposite side.
-Gently go back and forth. You can keep arms down at your side, or bring them higher up for more stretch (if comfortable).
You should always consult with your medical team before attempting any of these exercises or any new exercise activity in general. Particularly if you just had surgery, make sure you are cleared by your medical team before trying any new activities or exercises. These exercises are designed as general advice/knowledge, not specific treatment. These are exercises that have worked for us (myself, Paige, and Joslynn), but every body is different, so make sure you listen to yours! What works for me may not work for you. A good Physical Therapist is a valuable tool if you need more specific guidance and treatment – you can find a PT in your area using the APTA or AAOMPT websites.