Physical Therapy and Breast Cancer

Physical Therapy and Breast Cancer

With more than 250,000 women diagnosed each year in the United States, breast cancer can have a significant impact on the lives of patients. Breast cancer treatment often involves surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and hormonal therapy.

Although these life-saving interventions are essential in breast cancer treatment, they can  have side effects of pain, loss of range of motion in the affected limb, or swelling in the arm, commonly referred to as lymphedema.

Physical therapy is a critical and essential part of breast cancer rehabilitation and recovery to restore function and improve quality of life.

Pain Management

Pain management is an important aspect of cancer care, as many patients experience pain associated with treatment. For example, patients who have undergone breast cancer surgery may experience pain due to scar tissue, tightness in the chest or arm, or weakness. Physical therapy can help manage pain and improve mobility by using techniques such as massage, joint mobilization, and stretching exercises to address tightness in the chest and arm.

Physical therapists are skilled to help patients understand the underlying causes of their pain and develop long-term strategies to manage it. Physical therapy can empower patients to address these underlying issues and reduce pain.

Restoring Range of Motion and Strength

Another common side effect of breast cancer treatment is a loss of range of motion, which may be due to restrictions in joint mobility, limited muscle flexibility, or underlying muscle weakness. This loss of range of motion may make it difficult to perform everyday activities, such as reaching an overhead shelf in your closet, fastening a bra, or lifting objects.

Physical therapy can help restore functional range of motion by addressing joint or soft tissue restrictions, prescribing daily flexibility exercises, and designing resistance exercises to restore functional strength. These exercises may also help prevent the development of frozen shoulder, a condition where the shoulder joint becomes stiff and painful. Physical therapy treatment may also assist with cancer treatment by restoring shoulder range of motion to allow patients to get into the necessary positions for radiation treatment.

Screening for and Treating Lymphedema

Lymphedema is a condition that may occur after breast cancer surgery and radiation therapy if lymph nodes and vessels are removed or damaged. Lymphedema presents as a swelling in the affected limb, which may be noticed as a feeling of heaviness in the arm.

Physical therapy can help manage lymphedema by teaching patients exercises to promote improved lymphatic flow and reduce swelling in the affected limb. Physical therapists with the Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT) certification are highly skilled in complete decongestive therapy to address lymphedema through manual lymphatic drainage and compression bandaging.

How We Can Help

The Jackson Clinics is proud to have Doctors of Physical Therapy who serve as Breast Cancer Rehabilitation Specialists and Certified Lymphedema Therapists at several of our locations.

From pain management to lymphedema treatment, these specialists undergo extensive training to deliver the latest treatments in oncological physical therapy.

What to expect: A Doctor of Physical Therapy will thoroughly evaluate you and create a customized exercise program to improve flexibility, strength, and overall function.  Additionally, your Physical Therapists will determine if you are at risk for lymphedema and monitor for its development throughout your care. If needed, your physical therapist can assist you in ordering the appropriate compression garments to manage lymphedema.

Click the link below to find a Breast Cancer Rehabilitation Specialist near you!

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