In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we would like to share some information from the American Cancer Society and the Oncology Section of the American Physical Therapy Association on how physical therapy and exercise can be beneficial to breast cancer patients in all phases of recovery.
Many breast cancer patients will undergo some type of surgical procedure as part of their treatment. Regardless of which type of surgery you have, it’s important to do exercises afterward to get the arm and shoulder moving again. Therapeutic exercises canhelp to decrease side effects of your surgery by reducing scar tissue formation, improving flexibility and strength, and helping you get back to your usual daily activities.
If you’ve had radiation therapy, exercises are even more important to help keep your arm and shoulder flexible. Radiation may affect your arm and shoulder long after treatment is finished. Because of this, it’s important to develop a regular habit of doing exercises to maintain arm and shoulder mobility after radiation treatments for breast cancer. 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 or be referred for physical therapy.
Some things to keep in mind after breast surgery:
- You will feel some tightness in your chest and armpit after surgery. This is normal, and the tightness will decrease as yougradually increase the movement in your arms and shoulders.
- Many women experience burning, tingling, numbness, or soreness on the back of the arm and/or on the chest wall. This is because the surgery can irritate some of your nerves. These feelings might increase a few weeks after surgery. You can continue to do your exercises under the supervision of your therapist unless you notice unusual swelling or tenderness. (If this happens, let your doctor and therapist know about it right away.) Sometimes rubbing or stroking the area with your hand or a soft cloth can help make the area less sensitive.
Talk to your doctor or therapist about which of these are right for you and when you should start doing them. Do not start any exercises without consulting with a medical professional first.
Exercise to help improve aerobic capacity is also important for women who have had breast cancer to help combat the effects of chemotherapy and help prevent a recurrence of breast cancer. Strengthening exercises are also recommended as part of regular exercise programs to improve health. These are not started until 4 to 6 weeks after surgery, and must be tailored to your general health, medical condition, and fitness. Other exercises specific to breast cancer patients are designed to help reduce your risk of lymphedema or swelling in the arm on the side where you had surgery.
For more information on how physical therapy can help your recovery from breast cancer, speak to your doctor or physical therapist.