Starting Resistance Training the Day After a Mastectomy May Help Regain Shoulder Strength

After breast cancer surgeries, shoulder issues are common. Patients may deal with pain, stiffness, numbness, swelling, or impaired movement. Research has indicated, however, that exercise and physical therapy can help address these problems. A new study looked into how exercise can best be harnessed to accomplish this.

Research recently published in JAMA Surgery involved having breast cancer patients begin a resistance exercise regimen the day after a mastectomy, and then to keep it up for a month, to see how well they regained strength and range of motion in their shoulders. According to the findings, the exercise group had much better shoulder health on average than the control group, at both one month and six months post-surgery.


The participants came from the Breast Cancer Center in Seoul, South Korea. Fifty-six patients who had undergone a partial or total mastectomy were enrolled in the study. They were split into a usual care group and a resistance exercise group, which performed personally tailored exercises focused on stretching and strength.

The latter group began their routines the first day after their mastectomies and continued them for a month, with supervised exercises in their doctor’s office and at-home repetitions. At one month, both groups’ shoulder health was gauged. At six months, this was looked at again, along with physical activity, body composition, and quality of life.

The researchers found that, at one month, 19 participants in the exercise group had fully regained shoulder strength, compared with just one in the usual care group. Then at six months, 22 members of the exercise group had fully regained shoulder range of motion, while 24 had fully regained shoulder strength. For the control group, those figures were six and five, respectively. The exercise group also had less muscle mass loss and better physical activity and quality of life measures.


Researchers say the findings indicate that getting exercise started quickly, and involving both repetitions patients can do at home and supervised sessions, may be a good way to stave off post-surgery shoulder issues.

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