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Physical Therapy After Breast Reconstruction

Most people recognize the need for physical therapy following an episode of low back pain, a knee injury or even after a shoulder surgery. However, the need for physical therapy following cancer diagnosis is so crucial. Today, I would like to focus on the need for physical therapy in women who have had breast reconstruction following breast cancer diagnosis.

Following breast cancer reconstruction women can develop shoulder issues such as adhesive capsulitis, rotator cuff problems, and shoulder impingement. Axillary web syndrome is another condition that can arise. This is a condition causing tightness in the tissues surrounding the shoulder, breast, and arm.

Neck pain involving radiating pain into the arm is also another complaint. You can also experience nerve pain unrelated to the neck which can be the result of chemotherapy treatments. This is called chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy(CIPN).

Lymphedema is a common result of breast surgery in which the lymph nodes were removed. Lymphedema is a condition in which the lymph fluid can not flow normally because of a blockage or damage to the lymphatic system. Your lymphatic system transports lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body. This system helps the body get rid of toxins.

All the above mentioned issues arising from breast cancer treatment are treatable by a physical therapist specializing in women’s health or oncology.

One more thing to consider is the need for pelvic floor therapy following breast cancer. Some women have a type of breast cancer which is fed by hormones. If this is the case, they are not permitted to take hormone replacement therapy during menopause. This can lead to issues with vaginal dryness or fragile tissues in the vagina. Speak to a pelvic floor therapist to learn how you can manage these symptoms.

If you had to have chemotherapy or radiation following your breast surgery, you also want to be aware of conditions such as radiation fibrosis, impaired balance, and changes in your cardiac system which can be addressed by a physical therapist specializing in oncology.

What do physical therapists do to treat these conditions? Manual therapy is one of the most effective tools physical therapists use to treat many of the conditions mentioned here. Manual therapy is a skilled hands-on-treatment to stretch and release tissues which may be caught up in scar tissue. Manual therapy also improves blood flow and activation to an area which has been shut-off from an injury or can desensitize a painful area.

Physical therapists have other tools such as stretching, exercises, modalities, balance training which help rehabilitate individuals following breast reconstruction.

If you have had breast reconstruction, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy and are experiencing any of the conditions mentioned above, please speak with your medical team about a referral for physical therapy. Even if your cancer was diagnosed years ago and your surgery or treatments were long ago, the symptoms may still be connected to the treatments you had to treat the cancer.

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