Physical Therapy and Breast Cancer

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By Christopher Ferlo, PT, Center Manager, Milford Center

Many women with breast cancer will have surgery, whether it is a breast biopsy, lymph node biopsy/removal, breast conservation (lumpectomy), mastectomy, or breast reconstruction.

After surgery, a significant number of women will experience shoulder, arm, neck, chest and upper back pain, stiffness, numbness/tingling, weakness and loss of function. Functional deficits can limit daily activities of daily living, including bathing, dressing, lifting/carrying, home chores, reaching overhead, work duties, and recreating.

Radiation therapy, like surgery, can also cause physical and functional impairments. Other signs and symptoms after breast surgery can include swelling (referred to as lymphedema), scar tissue formation, soft tissue restriction, skin changes, and achiness/heaviness in the limb.

Role of Physical Therapy:

  • Early intervention (one week after surgery with physician clearance)
  • Exercises to restore normal movement, such as range of motion/flexibility exercises
  • Pain management
  • Postural correction exercises
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Breathing exercises
  • Aerobic exercises
  • Ergonomic education
  • Manual treatment including joint mobilization, range of motion/stretching, massage techniques, and soft tissue mobilization
  • Lymphedema treatment, which is designed to reduce and control swelling
  • Creation of home exercise program by physical therapist

A physical therapist will design a treatment program specific to the needs of the patient, based on a thorough evaluation. The patient must have a referral from their physician/surgeon that should include precautions and/or contraindications for treatment.

 

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