- Cancer Information
- Living well
- Exercise for people living with cancer (with videos)
- Arm & shoulder exercises after breast surgery
- Level two exercises
Level two exercises
These exercises help make your arm stronger and ease the tightness in your chest and shoulder muscles.
All can be done lying down, sitting in a chair or standing up, except for the wall crawl, which works best standing up.
Use your arm for combing your hair, getting dressed, putting on make-up and reaching for light objects – it will improve your arm movements.
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Tip: Gradually build up to doing each of these exercises 10 times 4 times a day.
Clasp your hands together in front of your chest, keeping your elbows in. Using your strong arm to help, stretch both arms until your elbows are straight out in front at shoulder height then return to your chest. Pull your shoulder blades back as you pull back your elbows.
Keep pushing your hands together so that they support each other as you lift your arms over your head. Lower your hands back towards your hips.
The movement should be continuous. Aim to reach your hands above your head within your comfort level. This will be easier to control if you start this exercise lying down.
Take your hands, still clasped together, to the top of your head. Slowly and gently bring your elbows together and then stretch your elbows backwards.
Be aware of pulling your shoulders back but don’t poke your neck forward. At first this exercise will be easier if you lie down. Hold for 5–10 seconds.
With your head upright and hands clasped behind your neck, stretch your elbows backwards. Hold for 5–10 seconds to stretch the muscles on your chest wall. Try not to bend your upper body while doing this exercise.
You can rest in this position, but keep your arms well supported so that the chest muscles can let go. This exercise will help stretch scar tissue and assist with arm drainage.
Stand facing the wall with your toes about 20–25 cm from the wall. Place both hands on the wall at elbow height. Use your fingers to pull your hands up the wall, going as far as you can.
Slowly slide your hands back down the wall and relax. You may want to mark how high you can reach.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
This information has been developed by Cancer Council NSW on behalf of all other state and territory Cancer Councils as part of a National Cancer Information Working Group initiative.
We thank the reviewers of this information: Jane Turner, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Sydney Survivorship Centre, Concord Hospital, NSW; Chris Jellies, Director, Domain Health, VIC; Marney Jury, Physiotherapist, Domain Health, VIC; Mary Shearer, The Breast and Endocrine Centre, Newcastle, NSW.
We would like to thank Cancer Council SA for kindly permitting its booklet Breast cancer surgery: information for women having breast cancer surgery to be used as source material for this resource, including the use of the exercise illustrations. Editors: Jenni Bruce, Jenny Mothoneos. Designer & Illustrator: Luisa Chisari.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.