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Breast Cancer Rehabilitation

By Dr Felicia Adderley

In the course of a day we perform many different actions without even a second thought. We groom our hair, scratch our backs and reach into overhead cupboards for items.

But what if a seemingly simple task to most women, such as fastening a bra strap, was not possible?

What a disruption to “the norm” this would be!

Many people are living with these impairments for different reasons. Among them, shoulder surgeries, torn ligaments and/or muscles and frozen shoulders. In breast cancer survivors, mastectomy and reduced mobility following this surgery can be the culprit.

Breast cancer rehabilitation is for any breast cancer survivor that has any lasting impairment following a breast cancer diagnosis. This may include but is not limited to cancer related fatigue, nausea, sarcopenia (reduced muscle mass), lymphedema and reduced range of motion or movement, particularly to the shoulder.

Post-mastectomy, many survivors are instructed not to move their arms above a certain level, to protect the surgical site. Often they are unsure and apprehensive about when they can begin normal movement again. This can eventually result in inability to move the shoulder normally on the involved side, as lack of movement can cause stiffness.

Breast cancer rehab consists of a specific set of exercises that are safe to begin as early as 24-48 hours following mastectomy, once the survivor is cleared by their surgeon.

After being discharged from the hospital, the cancer survivor may then begin the breast cancer rehabilitation program as an outpatient.

The programme consists of three phases that the cancer survivor should progress through steadily until they are back to prior level of function or as close to this as possible.

The breast cancer recovery programme includes stretching, manual therapy, range of motion exercises, strengthening as needed and relaxation techniques. Performing these exercises in a controlled environment under the supervision of a health care professional is advised to avoid any complications.

For cancer survivors learning to manage the negative side effects of cancer treatment is essential.

The correct balance between exercise and rest must be established. It is a common misconception that rest and sleep should be what a cancer survivor spends the majority of time doing once diagnosed. However, research tells a different story. Moderate intensity exercise in most cases has been proven to reduce negative side effects associated with cancer treatment.

Physiotherapy can help to restore strength, range of motion, reduce cancer-related fatigue and other symptoms.

Returning a cancer survivor to their prior level of function can improve quality of life. There is strong support by research that exercise gives relief from nausea, diarrhea, pain and improves appetite and possibly cognition.

It is important that all cancer survivors realise they do not have to live their lives with limitations.

Take action. Life can be full of the things that survivors love to do again, even if it’s the simple things.

• For further information or queries contact Dr Felicia Adderley at Adderley Physiotherapy, 8th Terrace Centreville at 326-3052, e-mail adderleypt@gmail.com, or visit Felicia Adderley PT, DPT, CKTP on Facebook for more information.

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