We know that physical therapy can be beneficial when someone is injured or after surgery to regain mobility and range of motion, but many breast cancer survivors do not have access to or even know about the benefits physical therapy can provide to them. Physical therapy after breast surgery and reconstruction can enhance the quality of the survivor’s life and decrease the effects of scarring.
A Lack of Awareness.
Even though there is much evidence for the use of physical activity and physical therapy during cancer treatment, the awareness and use of physical therapy is still lacking. Some of the reasons to consult with a physical therapist trained in oncology are to manage fatigue, strengthen muscles, increase lean body mass, and assess patients for risk of falling or need of assistive devices (cane or walker).
“Patients are told [regarding side effects] this is your new normal, or that’s no big deal, or you just need to learn to live with it. So there’s a misconception that people have that there are no services to help me overcome these side effects. So there’s a huge lack of awareness.”~ Amanda Grilli
It’s not clear why physical therapists aren’t consulted regularly as part of the cancer care team. Working with a physical therapist, patients are required to be a proactive participant in their own care, unlike with medical care where they are passive, receiving treatments while not doing much themselves. This mentality shift from passive receiver to active participant helps survivors adjust physically and mentally.
Why Does a Survivor Need Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy can have numerous benefits. Besides strengthening muscles, physical therapy can help a survivor manage fatigue, increase physical activity, reduce side effects of treatment, be more independent, and enhance quality of life. Physical activity slows the loss of lean muscle mass, helps a survivor manage their weight, make sense of the trauma they’ve undergone physically and mentally, and take responsibility for their own self-care.
And the self-care piece of it can’t be overstated. Self-care involves, self-massage, scar- management, healthy eating, and so much more. Some self-care is meant to keep the capsule that holds the implant from hardening, preventing restriction of movement in the chest, shoulders, and arms. Strengthening the upper back and chest area can help prevent hunching.
Studies have shown that “cancer survivors under the age of 65 are three times less likely to return to work.” This, in turn, can have serious effects on a survivor’s financial situation, independence, and quality of life.
“Physical therapists play a crucial role in one’s recovery from breast cancer because we’re there to really help people minimize and overcome a lot of those side effects.”~ Amanda Grilli
Two really important reasons to seek out physical therapy are managing side effects from radiation therapy and reducing scar tissue formation.
It’s Never Too Early to Get Started.
Anytime is a good time for a physical therapy consult. According to Amanda, you can start before treatment begins to condition the muscles and skin. And some people have been known to come back for physical therapy five or ten years out after therapy.
Rizzo A. The Role of Exercise and Rehabilitation in the Cancer Care Plan. J Adv Pract Oncol. 2016;7(3):339-342. doi:10.6004/jadpro.2016.7.3.20
Here are some of my favorite moments from this episode:
- 2:03 How Amanda got started in physical therapy.
- 7:20 Why does one need physical therapy after breast cancer?
- 10:06 Physical therapy for reducing brain fog.
- 10:40 You don’t have to wait.
- 16:18 What physical rehabilitation entails.
- 18:37 What you can do at home to manage symptoms.
- 21:30 Scar management techniques.
- 31:12 Managing side effects of radiation.
- 33:44 Seeking physical therapy without a referral.
Links you might find helpful:
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If you’re stressed about what to eat check out episode 34 with Cathy Leman, RD, or episode 35 where I talk about food rules vs. food values. Episode 19 and episode 30 were about balancing components of an anti-cancer lifestyle. Episodes 25, 31, and 32 were about helping you find ways to heal your soul through Reiki and healing touch, writing, and art therapy.