Surgery is one of the most common forms of treatment in the event of a breast cancer diagnosis. And while surgery can help to remove cancerous tissue and be a major step in your journey to remission, the operation can lead to some side effects that you’ll have to manage. Those side effects include pain, swelling and loss of range of motion in your arms and shoulders. Below, we explain how physical therapy can help with each of these aspects in the wake of breast cancer surgery.
Pain from the incision site and from the trauma of the operation can lead to discomfort as you work to recover following a breast cancer procedure. Some patients also deal with tightness in the chest and arm area, which left untreated can become chronic. Physical therapy can help to strengthen structures and take pressure off this area, helping to reduce pain and feelings of tightness. Your physical therapist can also look for indications of muscle weakness or posture problems that could be contributing to pain and work on strengthening these muscles and improving your posture.
Swelling, also known as lymphedema, is a common issue after breast cancer surgery due to the removal or damage of lymph nodes during the surgical procedure or during other forms of breast cancer treatment, like radiation therapy. If these lymph nodes aren damaged or removed, it can lead to the buildup of lymph, a clear fluid that helps the body filter waste. This lymph retention results in swelling that can be uncomfortable and increase your risk of infection.
Physical therapy exercises can help to reduce swelling, as these movement techniques can help shift fluid to other areas of the body where it can be better controlled. You may not be able to completely resolve your lymphedema with physical therapy exercises, but you can make it much less uncomfortable, which is very important in the wake of breast cancer surgery.
Range Of Motion
A third aspect that physical therapy can help with in the aftermath of breast cancer surgery is range of motion restrictions. Due to radiation therapy or the surgical excision, patients may find it difficult to lift one or both arms above their shoulders or behind their back, which are movements you use more frequently than you realize. Physical therapy can help you expand your range of motion and make it less uncomfortable to do so. Scar tissue formation can also restrict movement or make movement uncomfortable, but gentle exercises and stretching can prevent this new tissue from limiting your normal range of motion.
Physical therapy will play a key role in your functional rehabilitation after breast cancer surgery, as it can help with all of the above aspects and more as you work to make a full recovery. If you are expecting to undergo breast cancer surgery in the future, connect with a physical therapist sooner rather than later to get the ball rolling on your rehabilitation. For more information, or for help with a different physical issue, reach out to the team at OrthoRehab Specialists today at (612) 339-2041.