Although I have worked with countless post-rehab clients over the years, I will never forget 15 years ago, when I had the opportunity to work with a group of ladies who survived breast cancer. The group was part of the Encore Program at the YWCA. At that time, as crazy as it sounds, training post-mastectomy or lumpectomy was referred to as “shoulder rehabilitation.” “As if surgery on one’s breast has anything to do with my f*!+^#! shoulder,” clients felt. “This is my breast, not my shoulder!” It seems such a cold clinical approach, but the medical community views rehabilitation from this surgery as how it affects the muscles in the vicinity of the surgical site.
One client, Maria Cohn, still had tremendous stiffness years after surgery and remained on Tamoxifen medication. The physical (as well as emotional) trauma impeded the range of motion in her upper body. I was able to determine any restrictions by using small rotational movements of her shoulder blade, shoulder and arm. I used the body weight of my own hand placed upon various points of her upper body to assess her overall strength.
We used a dynaband (usually comes in yellow) with the easiest resistance to gently increase mobility in the entire shoulder region. To build strength, we started with the yellow band and built up to the next level of resistance (usually comes in green or red).
Following are two easy exercises that anybody can do anywhere to increase mobility and strength.
I have named the first exercise “Up and Over.” Grasp the band with two hands about shoulder width, with no slack in the band. Begin with palms down, and the band down by your thighs. On an inhale, raise your arms and band up as high as you can comfortably. If there is any sharp pain or twinging, bring the band lower. If you can raise your arms to where your upper arm is alongside your ears, great! If not, raise your the arms at a height that works for you. You should feel a stretch, but no pain. If your fingers can safely reach for the ceiling after a few repetitions, begin to reach your arms slightly behind you. Focus on breathing. Inhale as you raise your arms, exhale as you lower your arms back down to your thighs. Repeat about 15 times. Notice whether there is any change in how your shoulder blades, shoulders and upper arms feel.
The second exercise is a “Horizontal Arm Pull.” Grasp the band in the same manner as in the first exercise, both hands shoulder width, with no slack in the band. Hold your arms up in front of you, palms down, about chest height. Initiate the movement from the space between your shoulder blades, and move your arms horizontally out to the side. If your arms don’t go all the way out, no worries. Draw your arms out only as far as your comfort zone allows. Inhale with your arms in front, and exhale as you move your arms apart. Repeat about 15 times.
Enjoy your workout!
Staci Jacobson-Glenney is a private yoga instructor and personal trainer with EFT Personal Training LLC. She is a Hunter College graduate, and has fitness certifications from American Council on Exercise, Kripalu Yoga, and Kettlebell Concepts. Staci has over 15 years of experience helping people get back to their prior fitness level after completing physical therapy.