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Physical Therapy: a Critical Component While Recovering From Breast Cancer Surgery

Most patients who undergo a surgical procedure also integrate physical therapy in their recovery plan, particularly, if the surgery involved body parts that move or control movement, including the legs, arms, or central nervous system.

However, physical therapy is also essential to patients who’ve completed breast surgery. Whether it’s double mastectomy or lumpectomy, a great percentage of breast cancer treatments require some of form of surgery or several surgeries that may be associated with side effects, including lymphedema and pain.

Undergoing physical therapy after breast surgery is useful in the following areas:

  • Range of motion

After undergoing breast cancer surgery or even breast reconstruction, patients may find it challenging and painful to lift their arms behind their backs or above their heads. Physical therapy exercises are meant to reduce pain and restore these movements. Inadequate motion can have an impact of cancer treatment. For example, if a patient is unable to move his or her arm too high, doctors may not radiate the affected area.

  • Lymphedema

Lymphedema occurs when cancer, cancer surgery or radiation effects cause damage to or removal of lymph nodes. This leads to swelling caused by the accumulation of lymph, which is the clear fluid that enhances the filtering of waste from the body.

Lymphedema can be painful and comfortable, and may ultimately cause infections. While physical therapy may not remove lymphedema, it may help to move the fluid back to the lymph system, thus reducing the swelling.

  • Pain

Breast surgery usually causes tightness under the arm and in the chest. This tightness may result in pain. It’s recommended that patients should wait for three to six weeks before they start a physical therapy plan. They should also consult their doctor before they begin an exercise regimen. If possible, patients should get a physical therapy prescription that allows them to undergo therapy under the supervision of a licensed professional.


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