Physical Therapy Can Benefit Breast Cancer Survivors

The research is clear: Exercise, such as walking three to five hours each week, helps breast cancer survivors live longer and enjoy life more. But cancer treatment—surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy—can be exhausting. During and after treatment, women may not view exercise as a priority, or they may be too tired to participate in a standard program.

Physical Therapy and Breast CancerThat’s where physical therapy (PT) comes in. PT designed for breast cancer survivors can help women safely regain their energy, range of motion, and strength.

Beating Fatigue, Growing Stronger

Fatigue—one of the most common side effects of breast cancer treatment—keeps many women from exercising. That’s a shame, because exercise relieves fatigue. A physical therapist can help a tired woman feel peppier by suggesting coping strategies, such as scheduling demanding activities for times when a woman feels more energetic.

To accommodate fatigue, a physical therapist tailors an exercise plan to begin with the easiest movements, such as chin tucks and shoulder rolls. As the patient grows stronger, the therapist will increase workout time and add more advanced exercises.

Preventing and Controlling Lymphedema

Breast cancer or its treatments, such as the surgical removal of lymph nodes or radiation therapy, may result in lymphedema. In this condition, fluid from the lymphatic system can’t be absorbed into the bloodstream. Excess fluid may then collect in the arm next to the treated breast, causing swelling and soreness. Other symptoms include:

  • A tight feeling, pain, aching, or heaviness in the affected arm
  • Trouble flexing joints in the affected limb

Exercise, which helps promote lymph drainage, may reduce the symptoms of lymphedema. Other PT care for lymphedema includes massage and bandaging.

Care Beyond Cancer

At WCHN we believe in caring for the patient both during and after cancer treatment. Learn more about the support services available: