After surgery, during your hospital stay, your nurse will begin the process of helping you return to your normal activity level. Your first exercises will include:

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Leg exercises
  • Position changes
  • Turning in bed

It is important to try to do these activities every two hours. Once you return home, you can continue these exercises, while adding other activities to your routine.

Activity at Home

Have a common sense approach to activity:

  • Plan to rest and lie down several times during the day when you first go home. Have short periods of activity followed by periods of rest. Ask your doctor if you can do other exercises.
  • Limit stair climbing for the first few days after surgery. If you have stairs in your house, plan ahead so you have to make only one to two trips per day up and down the stairs.
  • Gradually increase your activities of daily living. Do not try to return to all responsibilities at one time.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive and begin your other normal activities.
  • Do not do heavy housework, grocery shopping or take long outings without your doctor’s permission. Do not lift heavy objects, including toddlers.
  • Discuss with your doctor when you can resume sexual intercourse.
  • Breast surgery patients should not lift more than 5 pounds.

The Importance of Exercise

Exercise increases blood flow and lowers the risk of blood clots after surgery. Other exercises can help decrease your pain. Begin with small exercises such as pumping your ankles up and down or making circles with your feet.

Other general exercises you might try (repeat each 5 times):

  • Slide your heels up and down on the bed, one leg at a time.
  • Gently push your knees into the bed to tighten your upper thigh muscles.
  • Gently squeeze your buttocks together.
  • Roll your shoulders front to back, making circles.
  • Bend your neck gently from side to side.
  • Turn your head to look over your left shoulder. Then turn your head to look over your right shoulder.
  • Flex fingers and make circles with your hands.

When you are even more recovered, you may wish to begin an exercise or wellness program. Always talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

    Deep breathing exercises help keep the small air sacs in your lungs open. You may be given an incentive spirometer, a small plastic device that is used to help measure how much air you can breathe in. Use a pillow to apply pressure to your abdomen or breast (site of surgery) when deep breathing, coughing or laughing to decrease discomfort.

    Deep Breathing Exercises

    • Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose.
    • Expand your lungs as if gathering a breath to shout.
    • Hold your breath for 5 seconds.
    • Breathe out through your mouth slowly for 5 seconds.
    • Repeat 10 times every one - two hours.
    • Incentive Spirometer
If your doctor orders an incentive spirometer, your nurse will help you to use it.
    • Exhale completely; then close your lips around the mouthpiece with the mouthpiece held between your teeth.
    • Suck air inward through the mouthpiece. The goal is to be able to breathe in as much air after surgery as you did before surgery.
    • Hold your breath for 5 seconds.
    • Slowly let your breath out over a 5-second period.
    • Repeat 10 times every one - two hours.
    • Cough after 10 breaths are completed.

    Position changes, including turning in bed, protects your skin by increasing blood flow to your skin surfaces and muscles. This prevents bedsores. You will need to turn in bed at least every two hours. If you had abdominal surgery, when lying on your side, a small towel rolled under your belly may help avoid a pulling sensation on the surgical site. A pillow between your legs or one behind your back may make you feel more comfortable.

    Turning in Bed

    • Use your own strength to turn in bed and plan to move slowly.
    • Move shoulders and hips at the same time.
    • Avoid twisting.
    • Have a nurse or family member place pillows behind your back and between your knees when you are lying on your side.
    • If you had breast surgery, you maybe more comfortable on your back or unaffected side.
    • Do not use pillows under the knees while lying on your back because this can cause blood clots.

    Walking is the best medicine you can give yourself during your recovery from surgery. Walking improves blood flow, helps keep your lungs clear and increases bowel activity.

    The morning after your surgery, your nurse will help you get out of bed to walk, bathe and sit in a bedside chair. You may feel some weakness, nausea or pain when you get out of the bed the first few times. This will get better as your activity level increases.

    • Your doctor will order the number of times you should walk and sit in the bedside chair.
    • Get out of bed by rolling to your side, dropping your legs and pushing up with your arms.
    • For breast surgery patients, use your unaffected arm to push up. This avoids a “pulling” feeling.
    • Once you return home, continue to increase your walking time until you are fully recovered.