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Physiotherapy After Breast Cancer Surgery

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Millions of women all over the world suffer from breast cancer and have to undergo one (or several) of the following surgery types:

  • Breast reconstruction
  • Mastectomy
  • Lumpectomy (breast conservation surgery)
  • Breast biopsy
  • Lymph node removal or biopsy

In order to fully recover and regain complete function of your arms and shoulders after these surgeries, as well as deal with post-operational pains, you will need to go through a course of physiotherapy.

When Should You Start Exercising?

There are some exercises that you will be able to perform even the next day after surgery. Your doctor or nurse must inform you of those, as they are important for the process of recovery.

Any exercises that require significant level of physical exertion will have to wait for several weeks. Consult with your doctor and explain your usual workout routine. Don't attempt any exercises until they are approved by your health care specialist.

Image RemovedIf you weren't physically active before the surgery, you would need to discuss new workout routine with an experienced physiotherapist. This professional will be able to create a training plan that will gradually strengthen your muscles and facilitate the recovery process.

Please note that if you experience pain, shortness of breath or any significant physical discomfort during exercise, you must stop and immediately contact your doctor.

First Week After Surgery

After you get your doctor's approval, you can start with the following exercises:

  • Using your affected arm to perform routine daily movements as normal (combing your hair, getting dressed, eating, etc.).
  • To reduce post-surgery swelling, you will need to lie down and prop your affected arm on a pillow so that the wrist is higher than your shoulder. The arm should be raised above the level of your heart.
    Stay in this position for 45 minutes and repeat the exercise 2-3 times a day.
  • To pump the lymph out of your arm, lift it above heart level and start opening and closing your hand. Repeat about 25 times, than bend and straighten your elbow for several times.
    Perform this exercise 3-4 times a day.
  • Perform some deep breathing exercises to make your diaphragm expand and constrict. Repeat them several times a day (the more the better). This will improve your lung function.

Things You Should Know

There are several things that you need to know in order to make post breast surgery physiotherapy more effective.

  • As breast surgery can damage nerves, you may experience burning, numbness or tingling in your chest and arm. This isn't a reason for concern, unless the feelings are very strong or accompanied by swelling and/or reddening.
    These symptoms will go away with time if you continue to exercise regularly, and they can be soothed by gentle massage with a soft cloth.
  • It will be easier and less painful to exercise after taking a warm shower that will relax your muscles.
  • Refrain from doing any jerky movements and don't stretch the muscle if it feels uncomfortable. Your every movement must be slow and controlled.
  • Combine physical and breathing exercises to attain the best effect.

For the first 6-8 weeks after the surgery, you will need to refrain from using your affected arm for the tasks, like:

  • Hanging out washing
  • Cleaning windows
  • Hovering
  • Carrying heavy bags

Outsmart Your Cancer

You will also need to stop driving until your doctor allows it. Be sure to consult your insurance company about this as well.

Once your doctor grants permission, you will need to move onto some more complicated exercises that will gradually relieve you of the pain. Until that time, you will need to take prescribed drugs to keep the worst of it at bay.

Please note that you should use the pain as a guide to be sure that you don't overexert yourself while exercising. This means that you mustn't take any drugs before the session.