What Does Physical Therapy Have to Do With Breast Cancer?

Happy October, also known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month! This month, we will be covering all things women’s health and pelvic floor. You might be wondering, “What does physical therapy have to do with breast cancer?”

Physical therapy is a crucial part of the recovery process both during cancer treatment and for cancer survivors.

The two most common complications that we treat in breast cancer survivors who have undergone a mastectomy are: frozen shoulder and/or lymphedema.

What is frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is a condition where your shoulder joint capsule becomes tight and limits your overhead movements. This condition is commonly seen in women post-mastectomy but is also seen in healthy, middle-aged, and older adults. It occurs more commonly in females than males, but we have treated men in our clinic who were suffering from frozen shoulder.

So, how do you know if you might have frozen shoulder? The biggest symptom that causes people to think that they have frozen shoulder is a loss of shoulder range of motion. In everyday life, this might look like trouble: reaching overhead, dressing yourself, washing and styling your hair, and picking up your children. It’s important to know that many other conditions can also cause this same loss in range of motion. Sometimes, your rotator cuff might be irritated, and your range of motion is limited due to muscle tightness and pain. Other times, your mid back might not move well, and your shoulder is not in a good position to access its full range of motion. Lastly, your shoulder might just feel unstable and your body will not let you access its full range of motion because it does not feel safe there.

How do you know if you have frozen shoulder or one of the other problems we mentioned?

Go get a Total Body Diagnostic from a physical therapist! During a Total Body Diagnostic, a physical therapist at LeBauer Physical Therapy will look at how you move from head to toe, as well as feel how your shoulder moves, and will be able to tell you what the problem is, and how to fix it, that way you can get back to: reaching overhead, dressing yourself, styling your hair, and activities like tennis, golf, swimming, etc.

We recently had a patient who was struggling with what everyone told her was frozen shoulder, and it was keeping her from reaching overhead at her job, and picking up and playing with her toddler. She tried all of the exercises she found online for frozen shoulder, and it was actually making her shoulder hurt more. She came in for a Total Body Diagnostic, where we told her that one of her rotator cuff muscles was tight, and her upper spine did not move well, which was why her other shoulder was starting to give her trouble and pain too. We worked on both of the issues together, and she is feeling better than ever, and is enjoying life more than she ever has because she can be fully present and active with her son.

The second complication that we commonly see here at LeBauer PT is lymphedema, which is a term that describes the pooling of lymph fluid in your extremities.

Breast cancer survivors are at an increased risk for this post-mastectomy because sometimes the lymph nodes, which help drain the fluid, are removed during the procedure.

Physical therapy can help breast cancer patients with both the prevention of and treatment of lymphedema through many different tools such as massage, taping, exercise, etc.

We recently had a client who underwent surgery for a joint replacement, and due to some complications, developed lymphedema in her legs. She came to use because it was affecting her self confidence, and it also made it difficult and painful to walk for prolonged periods, so she was having trouble keeping up with her grandkids. She was also worried about falling. Through weekly visits using some of the tools that we mentioned before, she was able to reduce her lymphedema, and felt: confident, in control, and was able to keep up with her grandkids.

If you or a friend are struggling with the problems we mentioned, like pain, limited range of motion, not being able to play with your kids, or feeling limited by your body in your daily life, we would love to jump on a call to discuss how you can reach your goals!

Apply to Talk to a PT Here!

About The Author

Dr. Kaitlin Herzog

Dr. Herzog attended the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science. She went on to earn her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at Wheeling Jesuit University. Kaitlin has been an athlete for most of her life and was introduced to physical therapy when she had several sports-related injuries. She decided to become a physical therapist to help others maintain an active lifestyle while staying pain free. Kaitlin uses a hands-on approach to help people of all backgrounds optimize their movement and performance. Dr. Herzog is a record-holding competitive powerlifter, and you can find her training or competing in her spare time. She also enjoys Olympic weightlifting, CrossFit, yoga, sports, hiking, baking, crafts, traveling, and exploring Greensboro with friends.​

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