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Post Thoracic Surgery: 4 Exercises for Effective Healing

Minion Training LLC


Jan 15, 2024

thoracic surgery

Imagine you experienced a severe injury that led to extensive back/spine surgery that needed several months to recover and resulted in you not being able to perform activities you were accustomed to doing. And what can make this even more challenging is if you don’t recover properly. Undergoing any form of thoracic surgery significantly changes the trajectory of one’s health.


The post-surgery phase is critical, demanding a nuanced strategy to promote optimal healing, mitigate complications, and restore functionality. Continue reading to gather insights from efficacious data on four exercises designed to facilitate effective healing post thoracic surgery.


1. Deep Breathing Exercises After Thoracic Surgery

I know after reading the headline, that you’re thinking because you breathe throughout the day, this isn’t going to work. The significance of deep breathing exercises post thoracic surgery cannot be overstated. An examination released in the Journal of Thoracic Disease emphasizes the role of controlled, deep breaths in preventing complications such as atelectasis and pneumonia. 


Deep breathing exercises enhance lung expansion, reduce the risk of respiratory infections, and foster overall respiratory function. The thing is you have to be very intentional about the breath and allow your lungs to fully articulate in each motion of breath you take. 


Initiating deep inhalations through the nose, allowing the lungs to fully expand, followed by deliberate exhalations through the lips, is foundational. The rhythmic sequence of deep breathing not only aids in physical recovery but also contributes to mental well-being during this challenging recovery period. 


thoracic surgery


2. Shoulder Mobility Exercises

Thoracic surgeries often result in reduced shoulder mobility due to the positioning during the procedure. Gentle shoulder mobility exercises can aid in restoring range of motion and preventing stiffness. A study in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy recommends pendulum exercises, where you gently sway your arm in a circular motion (Circular Articular Rotations), to improve shoulder mobility.


Because the shoulder region is near the procedure site, those muscles and surrounding tissue are expected to be very weak. Start with small circles and gradually increase the diameter as your comfort and range of motion improve.


3. Gentle Walking

Despite its apparent simplicity, walking is a highly effective and accessible exercise post thoracic surgery. Many clinical studies advocate walking for early mobilization as a factor associated with reduced complication risks and accelerated recovery.


Initial walks should be short and slow, gradually extending both duration and intensity. The benefits of walking go way beyond cardiovascular health; it also plays a crucial role in increasing mobility and reinforcing one’s immune system to rapidly recover from injury. Moreover, the psychological impact of gentle walks on overall well-being during the recovery period should not be underestimated.


4. Core Strengthening Exercises

A strong core is crucial for maintaining stability and promoting proper posture during recovery. However, it’s essential to choose exercises that don’t strain the chest or abdominal muscles excessively.


The American Council on Exercise recommends seated marches as a safe and effective core exercise post-thoracic surgery. Sit on a stable surface, lift one knee towards your chest, and alternate with the other leg. This exercise engages the core without putting undue stress on the surgical site.


thoracic surgery



This comprehensive framework underlines the importance of incorporating proven exercises into your post thoracic surgery recovery routine—to accelerate the recovery process and decrease pain. It is paramount to consult with your healthcare provider before initiating any exercise program, ensuring alignment with your specific surgery and individual health status. The emphasis on gradual progression, attentive listening to your body, and adherence to professional guidance form the bedrock of this strategy.





  1.  Bertani A, Ferrari P, Terzo D, Russo E, Burgio G, De Monte L, Raffaele F, Droghetti A, Crisci R. A comprehensive protocol for physiokinesis therapy and enhanced recovery after surgery in patients undergoing video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery lobectomy. J Thorac Dis 2018
  2. Long, J. L., Carpenter, J. E., Miller, B. S., Hughes, R. E., Jeon, J., Skendzel, J. G., & Ruberte Thiele, R. A. (n.d.). Activation of the shoulder musculature during pendulum exercises and light activities. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy Dis 2010




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No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other licensed clinicians

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