Pilates instructors can play a great role in helping to restore both mind and body for the 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. today. Surgery, radiation and systemic treatments wreak havoc on the body after a breast cancer diagnosis. Some of the issues breast cancer survivors face include pain, limited range of motion in the shoulder and chest area, scars, lymphedema, fatigue, weight gain, osteoporosis and peripheral neuropathy. Pilates is an excellent modality to help survivors regain mobility, strength and endurance, facilitate whole-body integration and improve self-image. There are several ways in which Pilates can help with restoration.
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For one, the deep breathing involved promotes the return of lymphatic fluid to the thoracic duct, thereby decreasing the lymphedema risk. Of course, the method also helps to build strength in the core, as well as the middle trapezius, serratus anterior, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids and rotator cuff to foster better posture. Scapula stability and the stretching of the tight pectoralis major are also big benefits for survivors. Last but not least, a Pilates program serves as a gentle introduction or reintroduction to exercise, which can gradually increase endurance due to fatigue— the number-one complaint after treatment. The following sequence uses a regular chair, which is not only accessible, it’s also wonderful if you can’t get down on the floor or suffer from fatigue. Pull up a chair, and let Pilates make you feel empowered!
SCAPULA PROTRACTION AND RETRACTION SAFE TO PERFORM 6–8
Weeks post- surgery and beyond PURPOSE brings awareness to the scapula musculature while strengthening the core SETUP Sit at the front edge of a chair with your feet parallel and hip-width apart on the floor and pelvis neutral. Extend your arms at shoulder height, palms facing in. Keep your shoulders stabilized, neck long and chest open. (Optional: Place a pillow behind your back, as shown.)
1 . Inhale, moving your shoulder blades forward a few inches, imagining that you’re hugging a child.
2 . Exhale, gently retracting your shoulder blades to return to the starting position. TE ACHE R TIP Place your hands on the rhomboids/middle trapezius to make sure your client activates these muscles and not the biceps.
weeks post- surgery and beyond PU RP OS E increases strength in the core, legs, back and arms while building endurance S E T U P Same as Scapula Protraction and Retraction.
MARCHING WITH ARM SCISSORS SAFE TO PERFORM 8–10
- Inhale, and then exhale, lifting your right knee up and your right arm past 90 degrees, then return to 90 degrees. Repeat this continuous marching pattern for up to 30 seconds.
2 . Repeat on your other side. VA RI ATI O N S Alternate moving your right arm and left leg, and/or place your hands behind your head and rotate your body as in Criss-Cross if you don’t suffer from osteoporosis. A DVA N CE D Add a set of hand weights.
SPREAD YOUR WINGS SAFE TO PERFORM 8–10
Weeks post- surgery and beyond PURPOSE strengthens the middle trapezius, rotator cuffs and core while stretching the pectoralis major SETUP Same as Scapula Protraction and Retraction, but place your hands behind your head with your elbows bent.
1 . Inhale, bringing your bent arms toward your head with your elbows pointing up.
2 . Exhale, opening your arms out to your sides, imagining that you’re spreading your “wings,” and hold for 10–20 seconds.
3.Inhale, returning to the starting position. MO D IF I C ATI O N Place your hands on your chest, and “spread your wings” from there.
CHEST EXPANSION WITH BAND SA FE TO PE RFO RM 8–10
Weeks post- surgery and beyond PURPOSE promotes scapula stabilization while improving posture SETUP Same as Scapula Protraction and Retraction, but place a band below your knees, holding onto the ends with straight arms by your sides.
1 . Inhale, stabilizing your back and scapula musculature.
2 . Exhale, extending your arms straight back; inhale to return. ADVANCED Increase the tension on the band, and/or turn your head to your right, left and then back to center as you exhale and pull back on the band.