Breast Cancer Patients and Physical Therapists

May 30th, 2012 · No Comments ·

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, and the American Cancer Society estimates that 182,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Treatment to eradicate the cancer is only part of the process a woman must undergo to battle this illness. Once a woman has had surgery — and, possibly, chemotherapy and radiation — for breast cancer, she faces the challenge of getting her body into shape again.

Physical therapists (PTs) play an important role in the post-surgical rehabilitation of breast cancer patients. PTs administer stretching and strengthening exercises to regain lost range of motion and function in the shoulder and arms. They also perform scar massage to keep tissue mobile and supple during healing and to prevent scar contractures. Furthermore, PTs may create cardiovascular exercise programs for post-surgical patients and those dealing with fatigue caused by chemotherapy and radiation.

One out of three women who have the lymph nodes near the armpit removed due to breast cancer will develop lymphedema of the arm. A chronic and irreversible condition that can develop weeks, months, even years after surgery or radiation, lymphedema causes swelling, reduces oxygen to the tissues and in some cases causes a serious infection. The condition can be managed and greatly improved through a comprehensive physical therapy program.

“Working with women living with cancer is a growing niche in physical therapy practice,” says Jan K. Richardson, PT, PhD, OCS and president of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). “As cancer treatments grow more sophisticated, increasing numbers of people are living with cancer for long periods of time, and rehabilitation is so important to maintain quality of life.”

To celebrate National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and National Physical Therapy Month, both of which are in October, APTA members will participate in a series of walks in 10 cities nationwide. The walks raise money for City of Hope National Medical Center and Beckman Research Institute, a world-renowned comprehensive cancer center.

The APTA members will also team with Reebok trainers to lead a pre-walk stretch for the walkers. The stretches will be appropriate for women living with breast cancer and its aftermath.

For more information about Walk for Hope. For information on City of Hope National Medical Center and Beckman Research Institute.

Two stretches recommended by the APTA follow:

Standing Stretch and Reach:
Use this for your abdomen, upper chest, shoulders and arms.

While standing, raise your arms out to the sides and overhead, bringing your palms together.
Look up at your hands.
Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
Extended Arm Side Stretch:
Use this for your inner and outer thighs, hips, sides of torso, back of shoulders and arms.
Stand with your legs spread slightly more than shoulder width apart.
Raise your right arm overhead with your palm facing the floor.
Slide your left hand down your left leg toward the ankle.
Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
Return slowly to the starting position.
Repeat on the other side.

Tags: Women's Health