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  • Post-Mastectomy Physical Therapy 'Widely Improves' Quality of Life

    Postoperative physical therapy that begins as early as 2 days after surgery significantly improves joint mobility and "widely improves the quality of life" for women who underwent mastectomies, according to a new study. Researchers found that women who received physical therapy regained normal glenohumeral function 1 year after surgery and reported less pain, while an untreated control group continued to report limitations.

    Italian researchers focused on women scheduled for Madden's modified radical mastectomy or segmental mastectomy with axillary dissection, dividing a group of 70 women into 2 groups: 1 that received postoperative physical therapy and 1 that did not. Women in the treatment group began physical therapy on the second postoperative day and participated in 40-minute rehabilitation sessions 5 times a week for the duration of the drainage, followed by 20 hour-long sessions after the drainage was removed.

    Researchers observed "considerable" improvements in flexion as early as the fifth postoperative day for the treatment group over the control group, and noted continued progress at 1-month, 6-month, and 1-year evaluations. According to the study's authors, the treated group "regained normal function at 1 year after rehabilitation treatment while [the control group] was unable to do so for flexion, abduction, and internal rotation movements."

    Additionally, the researchers write that physical therapy resulted in "statistically significant differences" in pain perception for the treatment group and even contributed to higher quality-of-life reports from the women who participated in rehabilitation. "Treating and reducing postoperative symptoms, especially pain and functional limitation, helped the patients to have a fast and complete physical and … psychosocial recovery ensuring a significant improvement in terms of quality of life," the report states. The study is e-published ahead of print at the European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine.

    The role of the physical therapist (PT) in pre- and postoperative care of women with breast cancer is featured in a Move Forward Radio podcast and is addressed in the Prospective Surveillance Model for breast cancer treatment developed in 2012 by a multidisciplinary group that included APTA members.


    • I totally agree with this and have seen it in our clinic as well. We must keep moving ladies!!!

      Posted by Nancy Johnson on 2/19/2014 1:50 PM

    • As a 2 time breast CA survivor (mastectomies both times) and an experienced ortho PT, I can't agree more! If I had not known how to self mobilize my own tissue and range my shoulder, I know I wouldn't have had the smooth recovery that I had.

      Posted by Mary Prechel on 2/21/2014 5:01 PM

    • A whole article discussing findings in a research study... Yet don't even tell us which study they are referring to? Can we actually read the study? A hint on the name of the study would go a long way...

      Posted by Tino on 12/10/2014 6:09 PM

    • I have muscle spasms on my right side where they took the lymphnodes and breast. If I bend or do anything where I need to pick something up or use my arm wash my back or back of my leg I get this really bad painful spasm, what can I go for this?

      Posted by Debbie on 3/12/2015 6:27 PM

    • After receiving some inadequate "OT" at home after a simple mastectomy, I asked my surgeon for a prescription of PT. The therapist is just starting with me and I expect to be fully recovered and less sore than without PT. Aside from a page of exercises the surgeon did not discuss PT. Why not make patients comfortable as soon as possible after surgery? It is time to educate the community about the importance of PT

      Posted by Judyb on 5/26/2015 10:11 PM

    • Do you have additional guidance for those who had axillary dissection done at same time? My surgeon has not encouraged and I have asked twice for a PT referral. I am an athlete and have been doing some things I found online. Also I feel a cord inside that make me wonder if I have the beginnings of axillary web syndrome. Any suggestions you have would be a huge help!! Thank you.

      Posted by Jan Robbins on 7/20/2015 3:24 PM

    • I told my recon doc that I'd sort of made up a few range-of-motion exercises and he told me to stop -- that I wasn't ready yet, and that PT would come later. Funny thing is that not one person told me there'd be any PT at all. It's been close to 4 weeks now! I fee like an outsider in my own post-operative care.

      Posted by B on 10/30/2016 5:59 PM

    • Keep in mind that a therapy may not be "inadequate ". This is a highly specialized area so patients need to find therapists -PT or OT- that specialize in this area. Either discipline can address it but the individual therapist should be referred to a practice that specializes in this area

      Posted by Karen Pulaski on 1/13/2017 7:14 AM

    • I ask my surgeon after a double mastectomy if I needed PT and he said no. I ask if there was anything I could do at home to regain range of motion and he was still evasive. I didn't get any kind of brochures or fact sheets that could help me. Now I'm seeing online that it is good for you. What's up with these surgeons not wanting to deal with this? I feel as though I could have benefited from PT. My arm pits get extremely hot to the touch on a daily bases. I told my surgeon about this as well and he did not feel concerned at all and did not offer an explanation! I had my surgery three months ago.

      Posted by Polly Schneider on 5/3/2017 7:58 AM

    • Polly, sorry to hear that you are experiencing this. If you'd like to find out more about the role physical therapy could play in your recovery, check out a Move Forward radio podcast on physical therapy and breast cancer at http://www.moveforwardpt.com/Radio/Detail/breast-cancer-lymphedema-role-of-physical-therapy . If you decide that you'd like to pursue physical therapy, you can use our "Find a PT" online search feature to locate a nearby PT who specializes in your area of needed treatment. That's at http://aptaapps.apta.org/findapt/default.aspx . All the best to you.

      Posted by APTA Staff on 5/4/2017 7:00 AM

    • I had my full mastectomy done back in Dec of 17, with full reconstruction. had $ liftnobes removed from my right side. Im right handed.. doc put me on special limitation with lifting and moving my arm and shoulder. I asked about pt and he told me no. Now when you can only lift 10lbs for 7 mths don't you think pt is needed b4 you are put back to work at full force. I work in a factory which weight limits are 50lbs.. I have a lot of pain in my chest muscle and under my arm.. Any suggestions...

      Posted by Nina on 5/22/2018 2:46 PM

    • I had simple mastectomy and 4 lymhnodes removal, When I asked my surgeon if I can exercise , she told me after 6 weeks post op, never recommended PT. I insisted my primary medical doctor to give me referral to PT. It really help me a lot, I am now about 95% improved on my RUE ROM and strengthening my shoulder..

      Posted by Purita on 8/10/2018 12:40 AM

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