Usually it’s a simple conversation. “Hi, how are you? Nice to meet you. Which kid on the soccer field is yours? What do you do?”
Followed by a pause and a blank stare. “A physical therapist? What do you do with breast cancer patients?”
So I explain. And educate. And wait for the ‘aha’ moment.
Physical Therapy for Breast Cancer Patients
Unfortunately only 1 in 3 patients are referred to physical therapy during or after breast cancer treatment. It’s my passion to change that.
So how can physical therapy help those with breast cancer?
Pain and Stiffness
Cancer surgery changes your body. Surgery is usually needed to remove the cancer and is necessary to help fight the disease. But if you think about it, the breast is connected to the front of the chest. When it is cut, removed, reconstructed, or radiated its pliability, flexibility, and connection to the body parts around it has changed. That includes the:
- Shoulder joint
Sometimes this causes shoulder, back, rib, or neck pain and stiffness.
Lymphedema (Swelling After Removal of Lymph Nodes)
Oftentimes lymph nodes are removed to help doctors understand how to best treat your breast cancer. This puts you at risk for lymphedema, an incurable swelling of the hand, arm, or torso on the side the lymph nodes were removed.
We know that early referral to physical therapy can reduce the risk of lymphedema in many cases. Risk can vary from 6% – 57%, and oncology physical therapy can reduce that risk 4-fold in some cases.
My thought is: if I can teach people how to reduce their risk, it’s worth a visit, no matter how low the risk, or how long ago the surgery was. Wouldn’t you want to know this information if it were available to you? Medicine needs to be more preventative, and less reactive.
Return to Activity and Strength
One of the most common things I help people with is understanding how to return to the activities they love. When is it safe to start stretching, lifting, carrying, or working out? When are they safe to hold their baby or vacuum the house? What exercises are safe to do and which should be avoided? As a physical therapist, my job is to help people get stronger & more functional safely. My goal is to empower them after so much is taken away.
Balance, Energy Conservation, Etc.
Physical therapy can also help with balance (some chemotherapies may cause peripheral neuropathy which is tingling in hands or feet that affects balance), energy conservation (fatigue can be a big problem after treatment), and more.
Edina Breast Cancer Physical Therapy
So yes, I’m a physical therapist. And yes, I work a lot with shoulder, neck, and back pain. And breast pain. And rib pain. And swelling.
And most importantly, no, it isn’t depressing to work with breast cancer patients. In fact, my patients are so tough going through what they’re going through that they end up inspiring me just as much as I hope to be helping them.
Please share. Please let your friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors know that there are those of us trained to help them regain strength, improve range of motion and balance, decrease risk of lymphedema, and help return them to their former lifestyle as quickly and safely as possible. It should be a standard part of their cancer treatment, and it’s my hope that one day it will be.