The majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer will require surgery and for those who need a mastectomy, many choose to go on to have breast reconstruction.  Physiotherapy plays an important role in recovery after breast cancer surgery. Physiotherapy treatment is aimed at restoring and maintaining normal, pain-free movement.  Some women will also require radiotherapy after surgery and physiotherapy can help women regain the movement in the arm needed to be comfortable in the position this treatment is given in.  

Physiotherapy services for breast cancer treatment patients

  • pre-operative and post-operative assessment (to attain baseline information on the shoulder and arm, and provide the patient with education regarding exercise and lymphoedema)
  • education on the physical effects of breast cancer treatment and how to minimize post-treatment complications
  • customized post-surgical rehabilitation programmes, based on the phase of breast cancer treatment, to restore range of motion, strength, aerobic capacity and function
  • creation of individual home exercise programmes, with regular reassessment of progress and modification of the programme as needed
  • instruction in scar mobilization techniques
  • simple self-massage technique
  • home care and education

Who would benefit?

Patients who have received medical treatment for breast cancer including:

  • surgery (mastectomy, lumpectomy, axillary dissection, reconstruction)
  • radiation
  • chemotherapy
  • hormonal therapy

Possible physical side effects of breast cancer treatment

  • pain
  • decreased shoulder range of motion
  • decreased upper extremity muscle strength
  • decreased cardiopulmonary function
  • soft tissue fibrosis
  • fatigue
  • axillary web syndrome / lymphatic cording syndrome, which is inflammation of the lymph vessels
  • sensory loss
  • neuropraxia
  • lymphoedema (see later)
  • backache, poor posture and reduced function
  • psychosocial impacts: anxiety, depression, fears, concerns, changes in life patterns, adjusted activity
These possible side effects may be reduced with education and a customized, safe exercise programme designed by a knowledgeable physiotherapist. Physiotherapists are experts in addressing these issues and can provide advice and treatment to ensure optimal recovery and promote return to normal function.



Positive effects of exercise after breast cancer surgery

  • improved quality of life
  • improved cardiopulmonary function
  • improved upper extremity range of motion
  • improved upper extremity strength
  • decreased fatigue
  • improved venous and lymphatic flow
  • improved functional abilities
  • lower risk of death from breast cancer
Research studies have identified a strong association between lower levels of physical activity and higher cancer mortality. Physical activity, such as walking or cycling an average of 30 minutes / day, can improve cancer survival by 33%.