In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, our Bowie physical therapists explain the role that we play in recovery

October 22, 2018

In addition to recognizing the benefits of physical therapy with National Physical Therapy Month, October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease and the screening tools and treatments available for it. While you may already know some of the facts about breast cancer from personal experience or that of a loved one, what you might not be aware of is the important role that our Bowie physical therapists can play in recovery from treatment.

Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women, behind skin cancer. It affects about 1 in 8 women at some point in their lives, which equates to about 240,000 new cases being diagnosed in the U.S. each year.  The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances are for a positive outcome, but after treatment, many women deal with side effects that slow their recovery. It’s important to realize that these side effects are very typical, and that there are many ways to address them.

Many women diagnosed with breast cancer will go on to have some type of surgery, such as a breast biopsy, lymph node biopsy or removal, lumpectomy, mastectomy or breast reconstruction, on top of other treatments like radiation or chemotherapy.  Following these surgeries and treatments, many patients will experience pain and stiffness in the chest, shoulder and back muscles, as well as nerve irritation that can cause numbness, pain and a tingling sensation. These issues are secondary complications from the treatments necessary to resolve the cancer; however, the problems that they can cause for women can be resolved under the care of a skilled physical therapist.

Each patient’s recovery is different depending on the cancer’s severity and what treatments were used, but the side effects often lead to reduced flexibility and range of motion, which can prevent women from returning to their normal daily activities.  In addition, any woman that has undergone various treatments and hospitalizations is usually very deconditioned due to lack of physical activity, which can make even basic tasks seem like a chore.

How our Bowie physical therapists can help

This is where we come in, as our Bowie physical therapists can perform comprehensive evaluations to identify each patient’s rehabilitation needs based on their condition and the side effects they’re experiencing.  Once a patient is medically cleared for physical therapy—which usually occurs after adequate healing of an incision, if necessary—patients will undergo a program to increase their strength, flexibility and endurance so that they can go about their days more easily and with less pain. Most importantly, the patient will be able to return to their prior level of function, or possibly even excel beyond it. Below are some highlights of what a typical program will look like:

  • Targeted exercises to help reduce the risk for lymphedema, or chronic swelling that usually occurs in the arm on the same side of surgery
  • A series of basic exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles of the back, shoulder, chest and arms to prevent stiffness and reduce pain; the arms and shoulders are often particularly affected by treatment, and increased flexibility will help to improve posture and reduce pain
  • A supervised, gradual return to regular exercise, which can also reduce nerve irritation and fatigue
  • Manual therapy, which is a hands-on technique applied by the therapist to the scar tissue, joints and muscles to increase flexibility and reduce pain and swelling
  • A focused effort to help patients regain their independence in daily activities by simulating situations that are difficult for them

Recovering from the breast cancer should be celebrated, and you should not be burdened with the physical side effects that treatments can cause.  At CAM Physical Therapy and Wellness Services in Hyattsville, Laurel, Glenn Dale/Bowie and our newest location in Silver Spring, MD, it’s our mission to help you return to your pre-treatment physical activity levels.  To find out more about how our Bowie physical therapists can address your breast cancer treatment side effects or to schedule an appointment, contact us at 301-464-7390 today. You can also click here for more information on how physical therapy can help.