After experiencing breast cancer surgery and treatment, working out can become a low priority. Less than 50% of all breast cancer survivors exercise regularly, mostly due to a lack of information about safe and effective exercise.  However, exercising can be the most beneficial weapon to your recovery. In a recent Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, exercise can halve your risk of breast cancer recurrence and women who exercise are 50% more likely to survive breast cancer than those who don’t work out.  The benefits of exercise include decreased inflammation, reduced stress, decreased pain, and help in maintaining a healthy weight. Researchers have found that a combination of supervised strength and aerobic training not only reduces fatigue, but helps patients actually increase muscle fitness.

Over 2.4 million breast cancer survivors live in the United States today.  Lymphedema continues to be a large concern and complication in this population. Lymphedema is an abnormal accumulation of protein rich fluid in the tissue which can result in swelling of a body part.  It causes swelling, discomfort, and impairs arm function and quality of life. Lymphedema only impacts the region of the body affected by the lymph removal and most often occurs within 3 years of breast cancer treatment. 15 years ago, doctors advised against exercise following mastectomy and lumpectomy, with worry about increasing edema to the area, but these findings have now been disproved by studies. A recent study found that a slow and gentle rehab program was successful in decreasing their risk of lymphedema by 35% when 3 lymph nodes were removed and closer to 70% in women who had at least 5 lymph nodes removed. Guidelines today suggest to lessen your risk of developing lymphedema, or to decrease the severity, the following practices should be followed: practicing good skin care by keeping your arms clean and dry, gradually increasing the duration and intensity of activity, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding limb constriction, using compression garments if necessary, and avoiding extremes in temperature.

Upper body function is vital to being able to perform manual labor and activities of daily living.
Breast cancer surgery often reduces shoulder mobility. Many survivors have arm and shoulder issues after breast cancer. Surgery and radiation can cause deconditioning, soft tissue and nerve damage, and inflammation.  A slowly progressive strength and flexibility program can help to restore normal range of motion and reduce the risk of lymphedema. The earlier in the treatment process that activity can be tolerated, the better the outcomes including limiting fatigue, edema, and loss of shoulder motion.

At Freedom Physical Therapy Services we offer a comprehensive Strength After Breast Cancer program, following the Physical Activity and Lymphedema (PAL) study. The program consists of a warm up, stretching, core strengthening and weight training. You will work one on one with a therapist who has been trained to watch for signs of problems, will carefully progress your program, and make sure you are performing the exercises correctly to be able to continue the program on your own. New guidelines from Academy of Sports Medicine also support breast cancer survivors being more physically active.  Are you a survivor?  Give us a call today and let us help you improve your physical activity level and quality of life.

March 30, 2016. PT InMotion News.”Study: Early Supervised Exercises Reduces Fatigue, Improves Strength for Women After Bresast Cancer Diagnosis.” 7/22/2015.

March 30,2016. Holly St.Lifer. “How to Exercise When You Have Breast Cancer” Prevention. 11/3/2011

March 30,3016. Fit Facts. “Exercise for Breast Cancer Survivors” ACE Fit.

Physical Therapist at Freedom Physical Therapy Services
Molly Rittberg received her master’s degree in Physical Therapy in 2007 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and went on to receive her doctorate from Rosalind Franklin University (North Chicago) in 2009. She has since worked in an outpatient orthopedic practice where she worked with patients of all ages, injuries and disabilities. She has a wide variety of experiences including knee, ankle, foot and shoulder injuries, post-operative conditions, spinal rehabilitation and peripheral neuropathies.