The time it takes to heal after surgery is different for each woman. Before surgery, discuss the plan for pain relief with your doctor or nurse. Any kind of surgery also carries a risk of infection, bleeding, or other problems. Tell your health care provider right away if you develop any problems.
You may feel off balance if you've had one or both breasts removed, especially if you are large breasted. This imbalance can cause discomfort in your neck and back. Also, the skin where your breast was removed may feel tight. Your arm and shoulder muscles may feel stiff and weak. These problems usually go away with time. Your doctor, nurse, or physical therapist can suggest exercises to help you regain movement and strength in your arm and shoulder. Exercise can also reduce stiffness and pain. You may be able to begin gentle exercises within days of surgery.
Because nerves may be injured or cut during surgery, you may have numbness and tingling in your chest, underarm, shoulder, and upper arm. These feelings usually go away within a few weeks or months. But for some women, the numbness persists.
Removing the lymph nodes under the arm slows the flow of lymph fluid. The fluid may build up in your arm and hand and cause swelling. This swelling is lymphedema. Lymphedema can develop right after surgery or months to years later.
You will need to continue to protect your arm and hand on the treated side:
- Avoid wearing tight clothing or jewelry on your affected arm
- Carry your purse or luggage with the other arm
- Use an electric razor to avoid cuts when shaving under your arm
- Have shots, blood tests, and blood pressure measurements on the other arm
- Wear gloves to protect your hands when gardening and when using strong detergents
- Have careful manicures and avoid cutting your cuticles
- Avoid burns or sunburns to your affected arm and hand
Ask your doctor how to handle any cuts, insect bites, sunburn, or other injuries to your arm or hand. Also, contact your physician if your arm or hand is injured, swells, or becomes red and warm.
If lymphedema occurs, the doctor may suggest raising your arm above your heart whenever you can. Some women with lymphedema wear an elastic sleeve to improve lymph circulation. Medication, manual lymph drainage (massage), or use of a machine that gently compresses the arm may also help. And your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist or other specialist.