Five helpful Pilates Exercises for Breast Cancer Recovery
with Lindsey, Pilates and Xtend Barre Instructor at Bodytree Studio
Recent research has shown that gentle exercise like Pilates can be a vital part of recovery for breast cancer patients. Not only does Pilates help to relieve pain and restore energy, joint mobility, tissue integrity, and overall strength during and after treatment but also help to increase self-confidence and improve the overall quality of ones life.
Here are 5 easy exercises to try at any stage of recovery. Think of completing the exercises in two phases: first on their own then progressing with light resistance (i.e. weights or flex band). Keep repetitions low (5-8) and only go within a range of motion that feels comfortable for your body. If there is any pain then stop the movement.
This can be done lying down on a mat or sitting comfortably in a chair. Really think about the breath expanding into the sides and backs of the rib cage. Place your hands over your rib cage to feel the ribs expand out as you inhale and close in as you exhale. Try to take up to 5 smooth counts on an inhale and 5 smooth counts on an exhale. While breathing, notice if there is evenness and symmetry from side to side. Also take time to focus on the affected side of the body by breathing more into one side of the rib cage at a time. This will help you get into a relaxed headspace and decrease tension in your body.
2. Shoulder Mobility
All of these exercises can be done lying on a mat, seated, or in a 4-point kneeling position.
Protraction/Retraction involves opening and closing the scapula around the spine. Lying down, reach the arms directly over the chest. Imagine the scapulas like sliding doors so as you protract, reach the arms forward/up to the ceiling and away from the spine. As you retract glide the scapulas back in towards the spine like gripping a pencil between the shoulder blades.
Elevation/Depression involves lifting and lowering the scapulas. As you elevate lift the shoulders all the way up towards the ears and as you depress press the scapulas down away from the ears. With these two exercises try to avoid rounding the shoulders as you lift and lower.
For arm circles start with the arms down by your side. Inhale and start to lift the arms back towards the head, then exhale to circle the arms around to the sides. Only make the circles as big as is comfortable for your range of movement. Make sure that the ribs do not pop off the mat as you reach the arms over head. After 3-5 reps reverse the direction of the circles.
3. Spinal Rotation
Lie on your side. Make sure the hips and shoulders are stacked and the knees are bent and in line with the hips. Support the head with the bottom hand or place a small towel under the head. With the top arm reaching forward from the shoulder, inhale and start to lift the arm up towards the ceiling then exhale and continue to open the arm allowing the chest to open as well. Keep your hips pointing forward but make sure to bring your gaze with the arm as it opens. Stay in the position and breath into the front of the chest. Exhale to return to the starting position. This helps to open the chest and decrease tightness across the pectoral area.
4. Swimming Prep
Start in a 4 point kneeling position, making sure that the shoulders line up over the wrists and the hips line up over the knees. Extend opposite arm and leg in both directions. Really focus on keeping the abdominals engaged to help with the balance and control of the movement. Try to avoid shifting side to side in the body as you alternate sides, and try to keep the limbs equal in height. This full-body integrative exercise is great for developing shoulder stability and mobility, hip stability and mobility, as well as strengthening the shoulders and core abdominals.
5. Pelvic Tucks
Lying on a mat, have the knees bent and the feet on the floor. First start by gently rocking the hips forward and back. Imagine the hips like wheels as the hips tuck towards the bellybutton then roll away towards the feet. Also really think of using the transverse abdominals and obliques to tuck the pelvis and not the glutes. This is a great exercise to help create stability in the pelvis, strengthen the abdominals, and to improve postural alignment for the back.