Post-Mastectomy Physical Therapy

A diagnosis of breast cancer, double mastectomy, reconstruction….That’s how my year went in 2018.  Not the easiest year for an active woman.  I knew that physical therapy would help get my body and mind back to my pre cancer self.  It took a couple misses to find the right physical therapist.  Ann and MOTI were the perfect therapists for helping me get my health back.  Ann is kind and very knowledgable in working with mastectomy patients.  She was an expert in getting full movement back to my upper body. She did an amazing job!  I am certain that working with Ann gave me the joy of returning to an active life.  I can’t thank Ann and the staff at MOTI enough. -Mindy

READ OUR BLOG Breaking Down the Pink Wall: Navigating Mastectomy Recovery

After a mastectomy and following cancer treatments, a patient can experience loss of both mobility and strength in their upper body and core.

Scar tissue formation from a mastectomy, lumpectomy, or lymph node removals can be painful and can restrict movement in the shoulder, even leading to serious orthopedic side effects like frozen shoulder. Exercises to maintain shoulder range of motion and arm mobility may be prescribed as early as 1 week after surgery.  

With physical therapy, the patient has an improved upper extremity mobility and strength baseline, so their future reconstructive surgeries have better recovery and faster outcomes. Patients may also experience nerve pain caused by scar tissue impinging on nerves. Manual therapy can help restore sensation and relieve nerve pain.

In most cases, our physical therapists have worked with the patient post mastectomy or lumpectomy and prior to their reconstructive surgeries. However, meeting with a physical therapist before surgery can also help you feel more at ease and more confident in your overall recovery goals. It’s never too early to ask questions or prepare your body for the journey to come!

As part of a post op mastectomy treatment plan, your physical therapist will utilize different manual techniques to improve the scar tissue from the incision and increase upper extremity range of motion, while also prescribing individualized exercises to help restore strength and promote good circulation. As rehabilitation progresses, these exercises may be modified to meet new goals such as returning to a sport!

If a patient will be undergoing future reconstructive surgery, our physical therapists can also rehabilitate symptoms such as scar tissue build up and core weakness following a tummy tuck, the removal of drainage ports, or undergoing breast tissue expanders.  It is also  important to improve motor control and coordination of muscles and tissues that were affected from an autologous or “flap” reconstruction, where tissue is taken from another place of the body to recreate the breast shape such as the tummy tuck.

Physical Therapy as part of a mastectomy treatment plan can have the following benefits:

  • Improved upper extremity range of motion
  • Improved upper extremity strength
  • Improved functional mobility
  • Improved posture and core strength
  • Decreased pain at the surgical site
  • Decreased swelling on the affected side
  • Improved sensation at the surgical site
  • Improve scar tissue mobility
  • Neuromuscular reeducate affected tissues
  • Reduce fears of surgery
  • Provide a therapeutic environment and psychosocial approach

I had a single mastectomy with autologous reconstruction using belly fat to reconstruct my breast so I basically had a tummy tuck. The surgery went great but as a result of the tummy tuck, a lot of my body had been pulled and stitched together in new ways. My entire abdominal area was stitched internally and I had a hip-to-hip incision. The surgical site was necessarily tight to the point that I could not stand up straight for several months and without any tension in my belly for 6-9 months. Ann was great at mobilizing all that scar tissue on my belly and at the incision sites. It helped me feel better both in the short term and helped me get back to feeling myself again faster in the long term, improving my range of motion in both my shoulder and my core. I am scared to think of how much longer it would have taken without her. -Karen

I received physical therapy from Dr. Ann DeGrey after my mastectomy and exchange surgery. My surgeon highly recommended Dr. Ann DeGrey as she has a lot of experience working with patients after breast cancer surgery. The physical therapy helped me to regain my range of motion, strength and manage the pain. Dr. Ann would adjust the exercises as I got stronger in order to help me to return to my work duties. Thanks to Dr. Ann and the aides at MOTI, I am now able to return back to my work duties and engage in pilates and yoga. I have very little to no pain 1 year after my surgery, and physical therapy with Dr. Ann has helped me immensely. -Anonymous


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