Functional rehabilitation is an important aspect of the overall recovery process after breast cancer surgery.
Breast cancer surgery, including mastectomy or lumpectomy, can result in physical limitations and discomfort that may affect daily activities, such as dressing, bathing, and reaching overhead. Functional rehabilitation aims to improve mobility, strength, and function after surgery.
Common Problems encountered after breast cancer surgery that can be addressed with Physiotherapy include,
Pain and Numbness– often experienced at the area of surgery as well as over the scar. This can get exacerbated with radiation therapy.
Scar adhesion – Scar tissue can adhere to the underneath layers of soft tissue and cause tightness, pain, lymphedema and movement restriction. It may also affect the appearance of the surgical site causing emotional turmoil
Axillary Cording – Axillary cording or webbing is a tight soft tissue band that can be formed under your armpit all the way to your thumb.
Shoulder dysfunction – Due to scarring, pain, and capsular tightening, many patients experience shoulder dysfunction involving movement restriction on the affected side. This may be worse if there was a pre-existing shoulder issue.
Lymphedema – Lymphedema is a build-up of fluid in a body part caused by damage to your lymphatic system. If your lymph nodes are damaged or removed, they can’t always properly drain an area of your body. This causes fluid build-up and swelling in your tissues.
Your lymphatic system can become damaged if:
- Lymph nodes were removed during your surgery
- You had radiation to an area where lymph nodes were removed
If you had radiation treatment for breast cancer, lymphedema may happen in your hand, arm, shoulder, breast, chest, or middle of your body.
Common approaches to functional rehabilitation after breast cancer surgery:
Range of motion exercises: These exercises aim to improve flexibility and mobility in the affected arm and shoulder. Your physical therapist will guide you through exercises such as shoulder shrugs, pendulum swings, and arm circles to gradually improve your range of motion.
Strength training exercises: These exercises aim to build muscle strength in the affected arm, chest, and back. Your physical therapist may recommend exercises using resistance bands, dumbbells, or weight machines to gradually improve your strength.
Lymphedema management: Lymphedema management involves a complete assessment of the affected area, followed by hands-on manual technique to stimulate lymph drainage, compression garments to maintain the effects of lymph drainage, and exercises to improve muscle pumping action that will further improve the lymph flow.
Scar management: Scar management aims to help your shoulder get back to its full range of motion and function. Along with that, it helps to desensitize the affected area and combat pain.
Scar management can be started after your incisions (cuts) are completely healed and your drains are removed. This is usually about 3 weeks after surgery.
You may find that your scar feels very sensitive, tight, or itchy. Scar massage can help improve any sensitivity, tightness or itchiness you feel. It will help soften and loosen the scar and get the movement in your shoulder back more quickly
It is important to consult a qualified Physiotherapist, one with special training in the area of Functional Rehab post-breast cancer, to ensure that your rehab program is targeted toward your needs and goals.
Anshul is a registered physiotherapist serving the Grey and Bruce County regions. If you are recovering following breast cancer surgery or radiation treatments, please contact us to book an appointment with Anshul or you can book directly online as well. Anshul will complete a thorough assessment to determine your current status and build a treatment plan to improve your mobility, strength, function and quality of life.