Physical Therapy and Breast Cancer


 By Kristin Kenny, Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist

As we look back on October,  Breast Cancer Awareness Month obviously comes to mind. Did your therapist mention that October was also National Physical Therapy Month? During the month of October, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) takes time to highlight how physical therapists and their staff help transform society by restoring and improving motion in the lives of people everywhere.

National Physical Therapy Month

These two topics may seem to have nothing in common (besides the month of October), however, they are more alike than one might think. Many people may not know that physical therapy can be beneficial to patients with breast cancer. Physical therapy may be advised after procedures such as mastectomy/subsequent reconstruction surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Following mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, it is extremely common to have both soft tissue and joint restrictions relating to scar tissue that, left alone, can become detrimental. This can negatively affect shoulder position and range of motion, which may lead to neck, upper back, and shoulder pain. Physical therapy can help reduce soft tissue restrictions, improve joint range of motion and joint mechanics, as well as increase strength.

After radiation and chemotherapy, it is common to experience nerve irritation (causing pain), lymphedema (swelling), soft tissue tightness (causing range of motion restrictions), and fatigue with daily activities. Physical therapy can improve joint mobility and function, recognize and address lymphedema, help reduce joint and soft tissue restrictions to reduce pain, and assist with improving endurance and proper pacing.

Physical therapy treatment will include manual therapy to improve joint mobility and range of motion, postural exercises, progressive shoulder strength, conditioning exercises to improve aerobic endurance and patient education on their restrictions found, treatment plan and home exercise program.

For more information, visit the American Physical Therapy Association’s website at and click on the “Oncology” section. Information is also available with the American Cancer Society at

National Physical Therapy Month


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