3- Chipping away at the wall: Tissue Healing after Mastectomy

Road Map to Recovery

  1. Mastectomy
  2. 6 weeks of tissue healing
  3. Rehab to normalize shoulder mobility and core strength –> Return to function
  4. Reconstructive breast surgery
  5. Rehab to continue shoulder strengthening and activity specific –> Return to activity/sport/work

You can start physical therapy as early as 1 weeks after your surgery! Discuss when you will be ready with your surgeon and call to make physical therapy appointments in advance to have a smooth transition to therapy. 

What can we do at this time? 

  • Look at your incision sites and make sure it’s healing well
  • If you are seeing us for Physical Therapy, we can help change your bandages if you bring your extra ones.
  • Start gently moving your arms and strengthening exercises for surrounding muscles (not directly affected by the surgery).
  • Gentle scar tissue mobilization once your incision site has scabbed over and fallen off.

What is scar tissue? 

After surgery, your body forms scar tissue over the incision site(s). The scar tissue is usually more fibrous and stiff, which can affect your mobility if it isn’t addressed. There are multiple layers of tissue in your body and scar tissue can cause these layers to get “stuck” and it can also be painful.  We will go over mobilization techniques later for you to get moving!  


I have lymphedema…  What should I do? 

The lymphatic system is part of your immune system that can be seen like a highway system throughout the body to help clear waste products and fight infections. Lymphedema usually occurs when lymph nodes are removed from the area, which can be paired with a mastectomy. Because the flow is disrupted with surgery, there is a chance of developing lymphedema where the affected limb becomes swollen. 


If you are a post-mastectomy patient with lymphedema, you may benefit from seeing a Certified Lymphedema Specialist (CLT) instead. Talk to your doctor to see if they can recommend you a specialist near you. 

If you have more questions, please book an appointment with Dr. Ann DeGrey, PT, DPT, SCS or Dr. Lei Lee, PT, DPT for more information and to develop a plan!

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