Researchers from the Netherlands recently found that a combination of supervised strength and aerobic training during the early stages of breast cancer treatment reduces fatigue while helping patients increase muscle fitness.
As Breast Cancer Awareness Month approaches in October, Nancy Causton, PT, of Impact Physical Therapy of Hillsboro points out this study is the latest in a line of research that touts the important role physical therapists can play in breast cancer treatment, general rehabilitation and the early diagnosis of potential complications following treatment. Physical therapy also plays an important role in helping women take back control of their lives.
“Restoring range of motion and strength is certainly a goal, but also empowering women to learn how to take care of their bodies after major surgery is an important part of what we do,” Causton said. “Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy … all these things are done to you and are out of your control. Physical therapy is a great way for women to feel in control of restoring their bodies back through exercise and good health practices.”
For women battling with or who have survived breast cancer, physical therapy exists to alleviate the impact of surgery related to breast cancer treatment. Working closely with surgeons and oncologists, Causton says the ultimate goal of a PT is to help clients attain the highest individualized level of function, getting them back on track toward the life they lived before diagnosis.
“Physical therapists are trained to help restore range motion in patients following a mastectomy or axillary lymph node dissection – range of motion in the shoulder, shoulder blade, neck and back – all without compromising the surgery.” she said.
Causton highlights to a few of the specific ways PT can help those affected by breast cancer:
Combat Fatigue: The Netherlands study mentioned above, which appeared in a recent issue of BMC Medicine, found that a supervised strength and conditioning regimen during the first 18 weeks of treatment helped breast cancer patients offset the deconditioning effects of chemotherapy. It also built muscle strength while increasing a feeling of “general self-efficacy and mastery” among patients.
Early Diagnosis of Lymphedema: Physical therapists have taken on a greater role in the early detection of lymphedema, abnormal swelling of the arm and hand that may result when lymph nodes are removed or treated with radiation as a part of cancer treatment. Once detected, a PT can treat the early stages of the condition through massage, range-of-motion and strength exercise, and the use of compression sleeves.
Exercise for Prevention: Studies have shown that regular exercise and physical activity may actually lower the risk of the onset and reoccurrence of cancer (including breast cancer) when compared with living a sedentary lifestyle. Following cancer treatment, physical therapists like those on the Impact Physical Therapy team, can work with breast cancer survivors to establish an exercise program that maintains long-term strength, cardio fitness and overall functionality.