October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. Approximately 1 in 8 US women will develop invasive breast cancer during the course of her lifetime. Many will undergo surgery for removal of the tumor (lumpectomy.) Others will opt for the removal of the either affected breast (mastectomy), or that of both breasts (bilateral mastectomy.) These are often accompanied by removal of lymph nodes in the armpit to determine if the tumor cells have begun to spread into other areas of the body.
Regardless of which surgery is chosen, the patient may develop adhesions or contractures (tissue shortening) during the healing process. Such changes in the tissue can limit normal flexibility, and lead to changes in posture, loss of shoulder motion, and increased pain in surrounding areas. Simple range of motion exercises, begun as early as the first day or two following surgery can prevent such tightness and loss of function. They will also help maintain proper circulation and prevention of lymphedema (severe swelling and pain of the arm and hand.)
Some tips to assist in proper healing and full return to function include:
- frequent ice applications (no more than 10 minutes each) along affected areas to reduce pain and inflammation, especially in the first week or two following surgery
- Range of motion exercises in the hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder, and neck, repeated 3-4 times daily. Fist pumping, wrist curls, bending and straightening the elbow can be performed while laying down, for 10 reps each. Table slides for the shoulder are easily performed with both hands comfortably resting on a towel at a desk or table, elbows straight, as you lean your body forward. This stretch can be held for 15-20 seconds, and repeated 3-5 times. Turning the head side-side and up-down will help keep neck muscles limber.
- Maintain strength in posture muscles by sitting straight with shoulder blades pinched for 5 seconds, repeat 10 times.
- Daily walks for circulation and fresh air can also prove helpful in speeding your recovery
Learning you’ve developed breast cancer can be very upsetting. However, maintaining a positive outlook, and playing an active role in your treatment can make a huge difference in successful treatment following breast cancer surgery.
Lidia D. Cousins, MPT
OrthoVirginia/West End Orthopaedic Clinic