Physical Therapy's Role After Breast Cancer Surgery is Crucial in Optimal Recovery

Roughly 12% of women worldwide will eventually develop breast cancer, making it one of the most common malignancies globally. In the United States alone, there are nearly 3 million women living with breast cancer. Breast cancer treatments, complications, and post-surgery rehabilitation processes are important public health issues.

While the initial treatment process for breast cancer is usually highly structured and thorough, there is sometimes less attention given to the pre and post-surgical rehabilitation process.


Breast cancer surgery can produce side effects, such as:

Physical therapy mainly brings to mind post-surgical recovery regimens, but it can also include “prehabilitation” exercises to help ready the body for the stress of surgery. Prehab exercises can increase strength, improve mobility, enhance circulation and local energy metabolism, and reduce pain reactivity.

Post-surgical rehab processes can also reduce many of the side effects of surgery.

Therapist-prescribed routines can help to restore range of motion, improve circulation, reduce inflammation and reduce pain.

Doctor examining his patients arm in medical office

Many people struggle with things like lifting their arms fully overhead after surgery, or even in between treatments of radiation therapy when the arms must be held in specific positions. Physical therapy can help to relieve this and make daily movements easier and more comfortable.

Lymphedema is localized swelling caused by the buildup of lymphatic fluid related to lymph nodes that have been damaged or removed due to surgery, radiation, or the direct effects of the cancer. Physical therapy and manual bodywork treatments can help to relieve some of this swelling and make day-to-day life more comfortable.

Breast cancer is a major public health concern across the world, and nearly everyone will be affected by it in some way. The more we can do to improve the quality and consistency of treatments, including the pre-and post-surgery therapy process, the more we can help to enhance outcomes and the quality of life of those undergoing treatment for breast cancer.


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