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Awareness: Exercise For The Breast Cancer Patient

khts_healthBy Karena Thek Lineback
Author of OsteoPilates
Host of Pilates for Healthy Bodies on PBS
President of Pilates Teck

‘Pilates is not about obtaining the Hollywood Body. It is about feeling the best you can every single day.” -Mary Petersen, Breast cancer survivor

Your physician has partnered with you to fight cancer; it is up to you to take on the task of ‘getting your life back’ by not only regaining your physical strength and stamina but also by creating an environment where your body can more easily engage the day-to-day effects of cancer treatment.

A gentle exercise program can:

  • Increase joint range of motion at the surgery site (usually shoulder for breast cancer);
  • Ease painful swelling as a result of lymphedema, the swelling due to excess fluids and toxicities pooling around the area where lymph nodes have been removed and are no longer performing their job of releasing this excess swelling;
  • Increase strength and endurance. Did you know that after just three days in bed our muscles begin to severely atrophy?
  • Improve posture which can actually help fight fatigue and depression;
  • Improve bone density or bone quality. Osteoporosis is a concern for any cancer patient due to the medications taken during and after cancer treatment as well as the lack of activity during treatment and the onset of early menopause.

You may not feel like getting up and getting started on an exercise program while undergoing treatment but this is where a gentle program like Pilates can be extremely helpful. Pilates is gentle enough to meet you where you are physically and effective enough to make improvements without strain. Let’s take a closer look at the concerns listed above and what you can do to bring your body back to life after cancer treatment.

This article is part one in a series this month for Breast Cancer Awareness. Each article will include a new exercise for the breast cancer patient and survivor. This week we will talk about Range of Motion. Next week: help for lymphedema.

Range of motion. Bodies don’t like to be cut open and re-arranged: a 14-year-old client told me this once. Funny, but oh so true: so be patient. It could take a year or two for things to feel semi-normal. I know that might not be what your oncologist told you but remember his/her job isn’t mobility; it is saving your life.

When you are trying to return mobility to that shoulder joint, avoid over-stretching and over-strengthening. In other words, don’t try to ‘fix’ your shoulder in a day. Over-doing it won’t always set you back but it will definitely make you miserable and immobile for a few days; and who needs that? If you’ve been through cancer treatment you’ve been immobile enough.

karena_mermaidMermaid: Sitting on one hip with your legs off to the side, crossed in front, or straight out in front of you, reach up and over to create a long stretch from your fingertips to your hip. While your arm reaches over-head, imagine all the movement coming from your spine. Create an easy stretch of the spine as the arm ‘goes along for the ride’.

Breathing: Inhale, prepare; Exhale, reach over.


Be sure to talk to your doctor before performing any exercise program to determine if this program will be safe and appropriate for you.

To perform the entire workout see our DVD at


Awareness: Exercise For The Breast Cancer Patient

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