Breast Cancer and Posture

Carol Michaels with a client

Cancer surgery and treatments can negatively impact body posture of breast cancer survivors. This video is a short sampling of a simple exercise from the NFPT Cancer Recovery Specialist course, emphasizing body posture. As a personal trainer, focus your cancer recovery client on a slow and steady mindset to combat frustrations and depression during the stages of recovery.

Why do breast cancer survivors oftentimes have poor posture?

  • There is a tendency to protect the surgery area.
  • Sensations of chest tightness cause rounded shoulders.
  • Scar tissue limits the motion of muscles.
  • Irritated nerves often result in numbness and tingling.
  • Muscle placement may be altered by the reconstruction process.
  • Abdominal surgery in some reconstruction processes can result in abdominal tightness and a tendency to lean forward while walking.

How personal trainers can help breast cancer survivors

cancer recovery specialist certificate

Most posture issues due to surgery and treatments can be corrected with proper stretching and strengthening exercises. If you are working with a breast cancer survivor, perform a posture assessment before planning the exercise program. This allows you to create a routine with specific and targeted recommendations.

Teach the client essential stretches for the pectoral muscles and shoulders. Eventually, introduce strength training with an emphasis on the upper back muscles. When the back muscles are strong, it helps decrease the chance of developing round shoulders and forward head posture.

Carol Michaels with a clientEven if your client performs their stretches and strengthening exercises regularly, they need to think about maintaining good posture every day. It is also a good idea to use proper ergonomics and make some lifestyle changes. These changes could include changes in sleeping position, mattress, carrying a lighter bag, and mindfulness about sitting and standing with good posture.

Educate your clients about the effects of good and bad posture

There are significant benefits to having good posture. These include efficient movement, improved strength, balance, and a decreased chance of muscle strain, tendonitis, and bursitis. Proper posture allows your client to move with more freedom and help them feel more confident.

Unfortunately, poor posture is on the rise. Poor posture is now developing at younger ages and is being observed even in our middle school population. Handheld devices, computers, desks, and sofas all contribute to poor posture and imbalances which can lead to kyphosis (tight pectorals and weak back muscles) at an early age.

Poor posture causes some muscles to work much harder than others. This causes physical imbalances and results in some muscles becoming very weak and others too tight. Eventually, joints can become stressed, which can lead to pain and poor range of motion. Faulty posture can lead to neck and back pain which can be alleviated through posture improvement exercises.

As we age, it is common for the shoulders to round and to develop a forward head position. When one has a head forward position, the affected vertebrae can harm the disks and compress the surrounding nerves.  The vertebrae need to be properly aligned so when the posture is improved there will be less compression on the nerves thereby decreasing pain.

Breast cancer survivors have all of these everyday influences to be aware of along with their own unique set of postural factors to consider. Personal trainers are a great support system for breast cancer survivors.

Personal trainers are a great support system for breast cancer survivors. You can help reverse some of the effects from treatment and set up clients to handle the usual everyday stressors that challenge healthy posture. Keep in mind what a breast cancer survivor has been through and work with them at their own pace.

cancer recovery specialist certificate


Carol is a nationally recognized, highly educated cancer exercise specialist and consultant and has been a fitness professional for more than 20 years. She is the 2016 Idea Personal Trainer of the Year recipient. Check out the course that she worked with NFPT to develop: Cancer Recovery Specialist.
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