Physical Therapy and Breast Cancer Recovery: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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 Physical Therapy and Breast Cancer Recovery: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we want to bring awareness to this horrible disease. According to, “Breast cancer refers to a malignant tumor that has developed from cells in the breast. Usually, breast cancer either begins in the cells of the lobules, which are the milk-producing glands, or the ducts, the passages that drain milk from the lobules to the nipple.” Breast cancer can affect both men and women, but it is more common in women.  

For individuals who have undergone breast surgery, physical therapy is a critical component, including surgery to treat breast cancer and radiation to the breast. Miral Amin, MD, Surgical Oncologist and Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon states that, “Physical therapy after breast surgery may help in three areas. One is range of motion and strength, second is lymphedema, and the third is pain.” 

Range of Motion 

After breast cancer surgery, breast reconstruction, or radiation therapy, individuals might find it hard or painful to lift their arms above their head and behind their back. When the individual begins physical therapy, they begin to experience restoration in their range of motion and reduction of pain. Having reduced range of motion can affect an individual’s cancer treatment because the radiation may not be able to target the cancer if they can’t lift their arms high enough.  


Lymphedema is caused when lymph nodes are removed or damaged by cancer surgery or cancer itself or due to effects of radiation. Lymphedema results in swelling because lymph builds up. Lymph is the clear liquid that filters waste in our bodies. Lymphedema can be painful and eventually cause infections if left untreated. Physical therapy won’t eradicate Lymphedema; however, it will help reduce swelling, pushing the lymph back into the lymph system. 

Pain Management 

Breast surgery can cause chronic pain, resulting from tightness in the individual's chest and underarms. Physical therapy can help relieve this pain over time by easing the tightness. It is recommended that individuals wait up to three to six weeks before beginning a physical therapy plan and talk to their doctor first before starting an exercise regimen. Remember, it is important to be patient. Doing too much too fast may cause damage and improvement only comes over time.