Activity Restrictions After a Mastectomy

After a mastectomy (breast removal surgery), rest is important to avoid post-surgery complications. However, movement is essential to your treatment and recovery after surgery and should start as soon as possible. Movement aids the healing process and can help you resume your daily activities, maintain a range of motion in your arms and shoulders, reduce stiffness and pain, and strengthen muscles.

Though your healthcare provider will provide specific guidance for healing, this article will cover a few things to keep in mind as you begin to incorporate activity after a mastectomy.

Woman speaking to her healthcare provider about activity restrictions post-mastectomy.

yacobchuk / Getty Images

Self-Care Activities

Self-care activities are important aspects of your recovery. Post-operative self-care activities include:

  • Managing pain: Take any prescribed medications to help manage pain and discomfort.
  • Getting extra rest: Fatigue is normal after a mastectomy, so you must rest well and often while you heal.
  • Caring for the surgical site: Follow your healthcare provider's instructions to care for your bandages and surgical drain and on showering and bathing.
  • Continuing to move: Your healthcare provider will give you specific arm exercises to do each day to keep your arm flexible and reduce stiffness. As much as possible, continue with daily activities, such as brushing your teeth, combing your hair, getting dressed, and eating; however, do not lift heavier items.
  • Practicing breathwork: Deep breathing from your diaphragm can help maintain normal movement of your chest. Practice breathing exercises often.
  • Gentle stretching: Your healthcare provider will give you gentle stretches for relaxation. Perform the exercises slowly and with control. There may be some discomfort or pulling, but there should not be any pain.
  • Eating a healthy diet and drinking enough water: Eating balanced meals and various foods will aid your recovery. Ask to speak with a registered dietitian or nutritionist to learn about the best foods for healing.
  • Asking for help: Ask your friends and family to assist you during the initial healing period. This includes picking up your prescriptions, doing laundry, cooking, and cleaning.
  • Getting emotional support: A mastectomy can be overwhelming. Speaking with a therapist or a mental health provider can provide emotional support during healing.


Most people can resume driving six weeks after surgery. Driving is possible if your surgical drains have been removed, your range of motion has recovered, and you can comfortably turn the steering wheel. However, you should not drive if you are still taking prescription pain medications because they can make you drowsy and unsafe to drive.


As soon as you feel up to it, you should be able to resume light housework and continue normal activities as much as possible to maintain flexibility and mobility in your arms and shoulders. However, do not do housework that requires lifting anything over 5 pounds until your healthcare provider has cleared you to progress to more strenuous activities.


Your healthcare provider will give you specific exercises and stretches to complete immediately following your surgery to help you recover the full range of motion in your chest, torso, arms, and shoulders and maintain strength and flexibility. Exercise may also help prevent lymphedema, a common complication post-mastectomy.

Your healthcare provider will show you how to properly execute the exercises and discuss any limitations based on your surgery.

Some people may develop scarring in the armpit area after removing lymph nodes, which can cause pain and discomfort during some arm movements. Working with a healthcare provider such as a physical therapist or physician specializing in breast cancer rehabilitation is essential to safely continue arm exercises to reduce pain and avoid further mobility problems.

Cardio Workouts

Avoid strenuous cardiovascular workouts such as biking, jogging, or running in the first four to six weeks. Avoid any quick, jerking motions of the arms, shoulders, or chest. However, walking is something you can and should start right away.

Strength Training

Strength training exercises should not start until at least four to six weeks post-surgery, after your healthcare provider has approved it. However, resistance training can help with daily functioning and reduce the loss of muscle mass and strength in the upper body. Working with a physical therapist may help to minimize strength imbalances due to surgery.

Do not start any exercises without speaking to your healthcare provider first. Stop what you're doing if you feel pain and talk with your healthcare provider before resuming.

Sexual Activity

Resume sexual activity when you feel ready. Using props such as pillows or towels can help to make you more comfortable and avoid putting pressure on the surgical site. Communicate with your partner what is or isn't comfortable.

Desk and Computer Work

Generally, it is customary to take four to eight weeks off from work after a mastectomy, but if you feel up for it, you may be able to start using a desk and resume computer work sooner. Check with your healthcare provider because everyone's healing process is different.

Signs of Problems

Signs of issues include symptoms of infection, such as:

  • Fever
  • Increased redness or warmth around the incision
  • Pus draining from around the incision
  • Unusual swelling and tenderness

Other signs of problems include:

  • Getting weaker, losing your balance, or falling
  • Worsening pain
  • New heaviness, achiness, tightness, or other unusual sensations in your arms
  • Headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, tingling, or numbness in your arms or chest
  • Swelling in your hand or arms

When to Call Your Healthcare Provider

If you notice any of the signs listed above or have questions or concerns about the healing process, contact your health provider immediately.


You can resume some self-care and daily activities, such as brushing your teeth, getting dressed, and walking, immediately after a mastectomy. Your healthcare provider will provide you with specific daily exercises and stretches to help you regain motion and strength and reduce stiffness in the upper body.

However, more strenuous or vigorous exercise, driving, and returning to work may take six to eight weeks and should be cleared by your healthcare provider first.

A Word From Verywell

Though you may be eager to resume normal activities and exercise after a mastectomy, self-care and rest are critical to optimal healing. Progress may be slower than expected, so listen to your body and move gradually until you're fully healed. Discuss your concerns and questions with your healthcare provider and seek additional emotional support if needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When can I go back to work after a mastectomy?

    It depends. Many people can return to regular activities four weeks after a mastectomy, but depending on your procedure, your level of pain or discomfort, and the type of work you do, it could take more or less time. Your healthcare provider will provide specific instructions on what to expect and signs that you are ready to resume normal activities, including work.

  • When can I lift 10 pounds after a mastectomy?

    You should avoid heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, or repetitive motions using your arms for at least six to eight weeks after a mastectomy. After the initial healing period, you may lift lighter objects and slowly progress to heavier ones. Discuss any exercise plan or specific movements to avoid or limit with your healthcare provider.

  • Why is my stomach bloated after a mastectomy?

    During a mastectomy, some or all nearby lymph nodes are also often removed, which can disrupt the lymphatic system and cause lymphedema and swelling of the arms, neck, legs, or belly. Constipation, which can cause bloating, is common after a mastectomy and can be worsened by prescription pain medication.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Cancer Society. Exercises after breast cancer surgery.

  2. Mastectomy: what to expect.

  3. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. About your mastectomy.

  4. Josephine DSP. Evaluation of lymphedema prevention protocol on quality of life among breast cancer patients with mastectomyAsian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2019;20(10):3077-3084. doi:10.31557/APJCP.2019.20.10.3077

  5. Axillary web syndrome (cording).

  6. Benton MJ, Schlairet MC. Upper extremity strength imbalance after mastectomy and the effect of resistance trainingSports Med Int Open. 2017;1(5):E160-E165. doi:10.1055/s-0043-115105

  7. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Breast cancer: lymphedema after treatment.

By Rebecca Valdez, MS, RDN
Rebecca Valdez is a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition communications consultant, passionate about food justice, equity, and sustainability.