Patients may take up to eight weeks to recover from a mastectomy, and during this time, they may experience stiffness in the shoulder, chest and arm as well as swelling in the arm adjacent to the surgical site, according to MedlinePlus. Physical therapy may help with the stiffness and swelling.
Health professionals can advise on light exercises that may help alleviate discomfort. Patients should perform only the recommended exercises, taking care not to overexert themselves, as this may affect their recovery, cautions MedlinePlus. Patients can usually resume most normal activities approximately two weeks after surgery.
Mastectomy patients may return home with drains that evacuate excessive fluids from their chests, which surgeons typically remove one or two weeks into recovery, states MedlinePlus. Patients may have stitches that dissolve on their own, or clips under the skin that require removal approximately one week after surgery. Patients receive a set of instructions regarding wound care, which may include washing the wounds with soap and water and changing the dressings daily.
Mastectomy patients may experience difficult emotions regarding the loss of their breasts after surgery. They may find it helpful to talk to a therapist and participate in support groups, suggests MedlinePlus.
Mastectomy patients are likely to feel fatigue in the early months following the surgery. They may also feel phantom sensations or pain in their chest as the nerves grow back, which is generally treatable with medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and opioids, state Breastcancer.org.