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Physical Therapy Greatly Improves Function After Breast Surgery

Oct 5

By Christopher Ferlo, PT, Milford, PA Center

Many women with breast cancer will have surgery, such as breast biopsy, lymph node biopsy/removal, breast conserving surgery (lumpectomy), mastectomy or breast reconstruction.

As vital as these surgeries are in the fight against breast cancer, they can have negative consequences of their own for which physical therapy can provide a significant benefit.

Because of surgery, for instance, many women will experience shoulder, arm, neck, chest and upper back pain, stiffness, numbness/tingling, weakness and loss of function. Functional deficits can include limitations in activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, lifting/carrying, home chores, functional reach overhead, work function and recreational activities.

Radiation therapy can cause physical and functional impairments. Breast surgery can result in swelling (lymphedema), scar tissue formation, soft tissue restriction, skin changes and achiness and heaviness in the limb. 

Role of Physical Therapy

  • Early intervention (one week after surgery with physician’s clearance )
  • Exercises to restore normal movement, such as range of motion/flexibility exercises
  • Pain management
  • Postural correction exercises
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Breathing exercises
  • Ergonomic education
  • Aerobic exercises
  • Physical Therapy manual treatment: joint mobilization, range of motion/stretching, massage techniques, soft tissue mobilization
  • Lymphedema treatment: designed to reduce and control swelling
  • Home exercise program

A physical therapist will design a patient-specific treatment program based on a thorough evaluation.  The patient must have a referral from her physician/surgeon that should include any precautions and/or reasons to withhold a certain medical treatment because of the harm that it could cause the patient (contraindications).