Breast Cancer and Physical Therapy

Unfortunately the incidence of breast cancer has almost become an epidemic today. Almost everyone knows someone or knows someone who knows someone (you get the idea) who has had breast cancer or passed away from it. Most women who have breast cancer undergo some type of surgery. They usually undergo one or more of the following surgeries:

  • Breast biopsy
  • Lymph node biopsy or removal
  • Breast conservation surgery (lumpectomy)
  • Mastectomy
  • Breast reconstruction

After one of these surgeries it can be difficult and painful to move your shoulder and arm. The surgery can result in pain, loss of motion, and weakness which leads to limitations in arm movement. It can effect the person’s ability to reach overhead, get dressed, brush their hair, or even have a difficult time bathing.

Aside from surgery patients will undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation. These two types of treatment can affect joints and soft tissues causing further restriction. For example, if you have right-sided breast cancer and receive radiation treatment than the right side of your shoulder can become restricted.

How Physical Therapy Can help

It is important to begin physical therapy when your MD clears you following any type of breast cancer surgery. It will help in a quicker recovery and return to function of your everyday activities.

A person is usually recommended to physical therapy after breast cancer surgery if they do not have full function of their arm 3-4 weeks after surgery. If this is the case, then a physical therapist will evaluate you and design a specific program tailored to your needs. The patient will usually start with range of motion and stretching exercises initially before initiating strengthening exercises to regain full use of the affected arm.

In the meantime, it is important to begin using your arm as you would for everyday activities. It will be normal for it to feel tight, restricted and painful. However, it is also very important that you do not keep your arm immobile while recovering. This can lead to further tightening and restriction of the affected arm/shoulder.

I will make a post in the next few days of some gentle stretching exercises that can be performed at home. Feel free to contact me with any questions.


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