Can Physical Therapy After Breast Cancer Surgery Reduce Risk of Lymphedema?

A report suggests that around 1 in 8 women may be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, and surgery may become part of the treatment for most of these patients. These surgical processes may be grouped into two major categories, breast-conserving surgery or a partial mastectomy, where the whole breast is removed.

Both surgical approaches might include removing some of the whole lymph nodes present in the armpit region. It determines whether cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or beyond.

But removing lymph nodes puts you at a higher risk for developing a condition in which there is a blockage in the lymphatic system that causes swelling and is known as lymphedema. This is a chronic condition that develops in around 30% of breast cancer survivors as there are only a few lymph nodes in this area to help remove lymphatic fluid through the entire region.

It may be a painful and potentially debilitating kind of swelling in the arm and hand over the side where lymph nodes were removed in breast cancer patients.

Physical therapy after breast cancer surgery:

Not all patients will need physical therapy. The more extensive the surgery is, the more likely a patient will need physical therapy to recover the range of motion. Other factors might determine whether a breast cancer removal patient needs to work with a PT, such as pain after surgery or if the motion doesn’t return to a normal timeline.

One main reason that a patient of breast cancer surgery needs therapy is the nature of their surgery itself. The goal of surgery is to remove the cancerous cells. The surgeons are always trying to keep you alive hence it is an aggressive surgery.

That is not to say that the surgeons and all the physicians don’t care about your overall wellness, but their main priority is to save your life, and they are less interested in the range of motion your arm has than they are in the removal of the tumor.

All the cutting or muscle and tissue causes body trauma. After surgery, most patients will unconsciously adopt a hunch and protective posture around their surgery site. This may lead to other orthopedic issues such as the neck, back, and shoulder stiffness and build pain with time.

When it is a case of risk of lymphedema, it is not about PT preventing the occurrence of lymphedema. It is about a patient understanding that the precautions prevent lymphedema. Hence, knowing how to start the exercise slowly, avoid a few things such as an injury or sunburn to your arm, and learn if they feel some swelling to report it to the physician quickly. Physical therapy isn’t fast after breast cancer surgery, but a stronger patient is mostly less likely to have lymphedema.

Once you have started physical therapy, the focus must be over a gentle reintroduction of movement and a few simple exercises that will be scaled up with time as you become stronger, and your range of motion gets better.

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