How Physiotherapy can Help after Breast Cancer

Kickboxing gloves

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and the team at our Oakville Physio, Massage and Foot Care Clinic wanted to pass along some information on the effectiveness of physiotherapy and exercise as part of the rehabilitation and healing process. Following mastectomy surgery, there is damage to the axillary region (armpit). This can cause a loss of mobility in the arm. Some women may also experience fatigue, weakness, pain, numbness and tingling after surgery. Exercise is an important part of recovery for breast cancer treatment and can help reduce these common symptoms.

Exercise can help you:
  • Begin your daily activitiesNordic walking to show treatment in North Oakville Medical for breast cancer treatmentKeep movement in your arm and shoulders
  • Improve muscle strength
  • Reduce stiffness in your joints
  • Reduce pain in your neck, back and shoulder
  • Improve overall well-being

Some simple exercises can begin the first week after surgery while the drain is still in place, but movement of your shoulders and arms should wait until the drain has been removed. Range of motion exercises and stretching can help prevent scar tissue build up and helps regain any lost mobility in the shoulder. Recent research also shows that exercise after a mastectomy can help reduce the occurrence of lymphedema.

After 6 weeks, strengthening exercises can gradually be added in to the exercise program. This may mean getting back to a previous routine of exercise, or learning some new exercises to start strengthening your upper body. Slowly starting household chores, gardening and yardwork are also ways you can build strength. It is best to have an exercise program specifically tailored to you, so speak to your Physiotherapist for a personalized program.

Aerobic exercise can be very beneficial in the recovery process and has been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness, maintain a healthy body weight, improve sleep, improve overall mood and well-being and decrease stress and anxiety. Examples of aerobic exercise are walking, swimming and cycling. When beginning an exercise program, start slow and gradually increase time and intensity as you feel comfortable.

Lymphedema is a potential side effect from surgery and radiation therapy that can appear months or years after treatment ends. Lymphedema is a build up of lymph fluid in the fatty tissues under your skin. This happens when lymph nodes that the fluid travels through are damaged or removed. Lymphedema is a serious complication and is important to treat quickly. If you notice any of the following signs, contact your doctor immediately.

Warning signs of Lymphedema:
  • Feeling of fullness, puffiness or heaviness in your arm
  • Decreased flexibility of movement in your hand, wrist or arm
  • Jewellery (rings and watches) feeling tighter than usual
  • Problems fitting your arm into your sleeves
  • Redness or increased warmth, which may mean you have an infection

Paths up stairs in Oakville Physio

A typical Physiotherapy session would be tailored around your specific issues and may use soft tissue techniques, stretching, heat therapy and other treatment tools to regain mobility and decrease pain. You will also be given a custom home exercise program tailored to your mobility and strength impairments depending on the time frame of your recovery. Our Oakville Physiotherapist Claire has a special interest in working with patients who have undergone surgery, mastectomies as well as other therapies.