What is Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Rehabilitation For Physiotherapists

Updated October 2016

Written by Siobhan O’ Reilly Bracken MISCP PT MPA MSc CLT

Email questions and comments to Siobhan@theoreillycentre.ie

What is Breast Cancer Rehabilitation and Physiotherapy all about?

Physiotherapists work closely with the patient’s oncology team and GPs to address the acute and chronic physical effects of breast cancer treatment. Breast Cancer Rehabilitation aims to return each patient back to their pre diagnosis quality of life and beyond, towards living well.

Physiotherapy is individualized and comprehensive and addresses the physical side effects of breast cancer surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Timely and effective rehabilitation also helps reduce the traumatic effects of the patient’s breast cancer experience.

Breast cancer often occurs later in life when a person may also have a significant co-morbidity. Physiotherapists are trained to safely address the common co-morbidities including, previous cancers, shoulder and spinal disorders, cardiac and lung pathology, diabetes, bone and joint pathology and neurological pathology affecting co-ordination, balance and endurance.

Specifically, Breast Cancer Physiotherapy may address:

  • Pain and decreased shoulder flexion – with early exercises
  • Painful cording, adherent scars, slow healing surgical wounds, and stiffness in the chest post radiation therapy – with specific manual therapy and taping techniques.
  • Pain and guarding postures – with therapeutic massage and specific strengthening exercises.
  • Painful stocking/glove neuropathies and increased falls risk (Chemotherapy Induced Peripheral Neuropathy CIPN) – with desensitization and ankle balance and power exercises.
  • Painful joint pain/arthralgia and persistent nerve pain/neuralgias – with joint mobs and neural mobilization.
  • Prescribing compression sleeves and gloves – with measurement and education on when and when not to wear them.
  • Education on secondary lymphedema and cellulitis risk reduction and early identification. This includes educating patients to be independent with
    • Meticulous skin care
    • Self-manual lymph drainage (SMLD),
    • Self-wrapping
    • Safe when flying and vacationing
    • Use of antihistamine and antibacterial creams, oral and intra-venous antibiotics.
  • Post reconstruction capsular tightness and muscle imbalances.
  • Cancer related fatigue and energy conservation techniques.
  • Safe return to sports and recreation, weight lifting, aerobic training for heart health, endurance training for weight loss, swimming and aqua-therapy for lymphedema.
  • When to refer patients to a breast cancer and lymphedema rehabilitation clinical specialist for long-term management and support

Please send questions and comments to Siobhan@theoreillycentre.ie