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Physical preparation and recovery after breast reconstruction

Physical preparation and recovery after breast reconstruction

Updated: 11 Jul 2023
Woman exercising in her kitchen, standing against her kitchen bench

Topics in this article
Health, nutrition and exercise
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Achieve your best possible physical recovery after a breast reconstruction.

Breast reconstruction is major surgery. Research shows most people are not aware that exercise before and after has a significant impact on recovery. Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) and Breast Research Australia, University of Wollongong, in conjunction with clinicians and people who have undergone breast reconstruction, have developed a range of resources to assist people in their physical recovery after breast surgery.

Five videos, a podcast and a health professional video are included in the resources available. The exercises for pre- and post-surgery have been developed by a physiotherapist, are demonstrated in real time and can be performed in your home.

Listen to the podcast to hear one person's experience of her physical recovery from a breast reconstruction and receive valuable information and advice from clinical experts in the health professional's video.

Practical information on making temporary adjustments to your home environment and demonstrations on daily activities such as how to get in and out of bed, showering and dressing are included. 

Physical preparation and recovery videos 

Pre-surgery exercise videos shoulder/upper trunk and trunk contain exercises to do BEFORE your breast reconstruction surgery. They can assist with your surgery and help you recover faster. Preparing your home environment and post-surgery exercise videos are available down the page. 

For women having all types of breast reconstruction surgery 

It takes at least six weeks to achieve significant changes in muscle strength and flexibility. This period will take longer if you’ve had radiotherapy. If your surgery is sooner, experts advise to focus on preparing yourself emotionally and on making changes to your home environment that will assist your recovery.

These are explained in the preparing your home environment video. Don't worry if you do not have time to do exercises before your surgery. You will be given exercises after your surgery to ensure your physical recovery. 

Pre-surgery exercises (trunk)

Only for women having tissue-based reconstructions where the tissue is taken from the trunk.

Trunk exercises to be done in addition to pre-surgery exercises (shoulder/upper trunk) by women undergoing tissue-based reconstructions where the tissue is taken from the trunk (e.g. TRAM, DIEP, SIEA).

Preparing your home environment

For women having all types of breast reconstruction surgery.

How to become mobile as soon as possible after surgery to assist recovery. It includes practical advice on preparing your home, best positions for sleeping and guidance on showering and dressing.

Post-surgery exercises (shoulder)

For women having all types of breast reconstruction surgery.

Both your breast reconstruction surgery and your drains can affect the muscle strength and flexibility of the muscles that move your shoulder, shoulder blade and upper trunk. It is important to perform these exercises to start moving again. It is a good idea to practice these exercises before your surgery.

Post-surgery exercises (circulation)

For women having all types of breast reconstruction surgery.

Healing after surgery requires good circulation of both blood and lymphatic fluid throughout your body, especially in your chest and arm. In the first weeks after surgery, when women are commonly not moving “normally”, these exercises will ensure you have sufficient circulation and lymphatic drainage to maximise healing and minimise any risk of lymphoedema. It is a good idea to practise these exercises before your surgery.

Podcast: Planning for and recovery from breast reconstruction surgery

Associate Professor Dr Deirdre McGhee, a physiotherapist and researcher at Breast Research Australia, and Jodi Steel, two years post reconstructive surgery, discuss how the right exercises and asking the right questions can make a big difference to your recovery.

Listen to the podcast.

Health professional video: Preparing for the best possible recovery after breast surgery

Physiotherapist and researcher Associate Professor Deirdre McGhee is joined by plastic surgeon Dr Dean Trotter, breast care nurse Monique Baldacchino and lymphoedema specialist Louise Koelmeyer to discuss the benefits of physical preparation and recovery for reconstructive surgery patients and look at ways to help remove any barriers women undergoing surgery may encounter.

Tell us what you think

We would greatly appreciate any feedback you have on this resource. It will help us to continue to develop any future resources to help women physically recover from breast reconstruction surgery.

Please complete a 10-minute survey. Your responses are confidential, and the survey has been approved by The University of Wollongong Human Research Ethics Committee.

Things you can do now

  • Visit My Journey, BCNA’s online tool for information tailored to your diagnosis. My Journey has a Symptom Tracking tool that you can use to help you record your pain, what works for you and what doesn’t.  

  • Join our Online Network if you think that talking to others online and sharing experiences will help.  

  • Contact BCNA’s Helpline on 1800 500 258 between 9.00 am to 5.00 pm AEST Monday to Friday, for information about the services and support that may be available for you and your family. 

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