• How long did it take to regain the use of your arm after a mastectomy? How high could you lift your arms to reach items in the upper cabinet

    Asked by Rose on Saturday, May 26, 2012

    How long did it take to regain the use of your arm after a mastectomy? How high could you lift your arms to reach items in the upper cabinet

    What is the first week like? Second?... I'm trying to think of things ahead of time. Things that I might need like bending a wire hanger in a way to help me pick up things off of the floor. A nurse said that they will supply me with a "grabber" and that they work great. Has anyone else used the grabber?

    8 Answers from the Community

    8 answers
    • leepenn's Avatar
      leepenn (Best Answer!)

      A few things will matter....
      1- do expect to have sentinel node biopsy or many nodes taken?
      2- are you doing immediate reconstruction?
      3- are your range of motion and strength pretty good now?

      On one - the more nodes taken, the more difficult is recovery. I had just one node taken via sentinel node biopsy. I had bilateral, and the right side (snb side) had less range of motion and quite a lot of numbness.... The left was easy breezy.

      On two - if you have reconstruction, they place the tissue expanders under your muscles. That makes recovery a little more difficult.

      On three - if you have good strength and range of motion before, then you will do better. So, it is worth it to stretch and exercise BEFORE the surgery....

      My experience - I could reach up to eye level with little difficulty practically right away. Anything higher, and my better half came to the rescue and we stored key items at a lower level. At one week, I had no problem raising my arms above my head. I had bilateral, sentinel node biopsy on the right, and no reconstruction. I had very good range of motion and strength before surgery, and I am positive that this made a huge difference. I rode my bike on day six after surgery, and it felt totally fine.

      The biggest annoying thing was the drains... They place drains so that you don't get a build up of fluid in there.... And the drains get in the way and are annoying. When you are allowed to shower (for me, I think it was 48 hours because I had glue rather than stitches), hang your drains on a lanyard.... And shower away. When you are out in the wild, wear clothes that allow you to stick them into pockets... Ad no one will be the wiser.

      GOOD LUCK! When is your surgery?

      over 8 years ago
    • Rose's Avatar

      *leepenn- Thank you for your information. I'm glad recovery won't take too long. My mother had breast cancer, but it was 30 years ago. I do remember some things like she had a small clear plastic box that the fluids drained into. Luckily when she wanted to go out into public it was cold weather and she could wear a short jacket and just pin it to the lining and go.

      over 8 years ago
    • Kimi1017's Avatar

      I had all my lymph nodes in the left side removed. My doc told me to exercise it right away. I did that and by the 3rd week I was able to lift my arm above my head.

      Remember it's so important to start stretching the range of motion of your arm right away so you get back your range of motion as soon as possible.

      over 8 years ago
    • digger6218's Avatar

      I am over 8 weeks from my implant surgery. Just heard about where they can skip the expander stage and do immediate implant. Depends on the patient buworth asking at. 1 less surgery and recovery.

      over 8 years ago
    • jamrck's Avatar

      Ask you surgeon to refer you to a physical therapist. I had a set of exercises to start the day after surgery, which I did twice a day. Ultimately lost no range of motion. For the immediate time after surgery, if someone can't stay with you, the grabber would be very helpful.

      over 8 years ago
    • nancyjac's Avatar

      I had pretty extensive surgery for inflamatory breast cancer that required 5 surgeries over the course of a little over a week. I had a bilateral mastectomy with 3 additional re-excisions on the left side until there were clean margins in the skin. Because that required so much skin removal that the wound could no longer be closed, I had to have plastic surgery to remove skin and tissue from my belly area to create a flap for the left side of my chest. All of that was 5-6 weeks ago. I agree with Leepenn...the most annoying and inconvenient thing for the first week or two was having the drains hanging out. I pretty much had full range of motion on both arms right after surgery, but was restricted from lifting and stretching during that time so as not to affect wound healing. After that, I still had to be a little careful when stretching and lifting heavy stuff, but was basically back to all normal activity. At this point, I have no limitations in range of motion. If I have to stretch really high with my right arm, I can still feel a little tightness on the left side of my chest, but it is no way painful or harmful to healing.

      over 8 years ago
    • Rose's Avatar

      Thank you all for your responses. I have had a few c-sections, but I'm thinking that this is going to be a bit different, not having the use of my arms. Like going to the bath room. I guess I should just wear a night gown and go commando. ;)
      *jamrck- The grabber! ;) Yes, I was told about that one. At first I pictured a man hiding in the bushes as a "Grabber". 0-o Just kidding. Between the grabber and fashioning a wire clothes hanger with a hook to pick up ??? socks ??? I think I'll be OK.

      over 8 years ago
    • DaveWaz's Avatar

      Thank you for your question. I hope all is well.

      Your comments reminded me of some content we have on the site about mastectomy and double mastectomy.


      There are also some pages on experiences with breast reconstruction:


      One last thing, I wanted to let other WhatNexters know about our Beginner's Guide to Cancer, which includes a guide on how women chose between a lumpectomy and mastectomy.


      Best of luck to all,

      about 7 years ago

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