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  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer and Physical Therapy

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Among the many not-so-pleasant side effects of breast cancer treatments, is decreased strength and mobility. While often necessary for treating breast cancer, surgeries, like lumpectomies, mastectomies and reconstruction, can damage nerves and muscles and leave scar tissue after healing, all of which can limit our movement. This is especially true of movements involving the arms and chest since those are so closely connected with the surgery sites. Physical therapy can help alleviate tightness and help you regain your strength and range of motion. Working with a physical therapist or a trainer who has experience with those diagnosed with breast cancer is also important in terms of safely returning to exercising and strength training on your own. A physical therapist can walk you through stretches and exercises that can help you recover, and can make sure that you progress gradually in a safe way so that you do not injure yourself or cause complications after breast surgery. Like any exercise, it’s important to talk with your doctor before beginning. It’s also important to remember to have patience with your progress. Take things slowly, your body has been through a lot of physical trauma. Incorporate other gentle movement. Get outdoors when possible.

In detailing his treatment plan, Ted shares that after surgery and chemotherapy, he had to go through physical therapy before beginning radiation. This was to improve mobility in his right arm after breast tissue and lymph nodes had been removed on that side. Read More.

Exercise has so many benefits for both your physical and mental health. After cancer treatments, you may have lost some of your previous strength and mobility, which can make exercising challenging. A physical therapist can help you safely get back to exercising. Read More.

During Sonja’s lumpectomy, the surgeon needed to cut through the intercostobrachial nerve because of a growth on top of it. Therefore, she now sees a physical therapist for lymphedema and hypersensitivity. “I love my physical therapist. I just found out that due to the nerve being cut and due to having no lymph nodes in that area, I will always have the hypersensitivity.” Read More.


From Around The Web

“Whether it’s a lumpectomy or a double mastectomy, most breast cancer treatments involve some type of surgery, or even multiple surgeries, which often come with side effects, such as pain and lymphedema. ‘Physical therapy after breast surgery may help in three areas. One is range of motion and strength, second is lymphedema, and the third is pain,’ says Miral Amin, MD, Surgical Oncologist and Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon at our Chicago hospital.” Read More.

The Oncology Section of the American Physical Therapy Association offers several suggestions of stretches you can do to help restore movement after surgery. “It’s very important to talk with your doctor before starting any exercises so that you can decide on a program that’s right for you. Your doctor might suggest you see a physical therapist or occupational therapist, or a cancer exercise specialist certified by the American College of Sports Medicine. These health professionals are specially trained to design an exercise program just for you. You might need this kind of help if you do not have full use of your arm within 3 to 4 weeks of surgery.

Some exercises should not be done until drains and sutures (stitches) are removed. But some exercises can be done soon after surgery. The exercises that increase your shoulder and arm motion can usually be started in a few days. Exercises to help make your arm stronger are added later.” Read More.

“Even before surgery, physical therapy can help. Prehabilitation is defined as the time of care that occurs between the time of diagnosis and actual cancer treatment. Evidence is showing that prehabilitation can improve psychological and physical outcomes of treatment. The goal of physical therapy in prehabilitation is to:

  1. Assess baseline measurements: range of motion of shoulders and spine, and circumference of both upper extremities.

  2. Identify any impairments that may affect recovery such as muscle weakness, postural dysfunction and pain.

  3. Educate in lymphedema and risk reduction.

  4. Establish an exercise program for prior-to and after surgery.” Read More.

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