Physical Therapy - Breast Cancer


Most patients recover quickly after breast cancer surgery and have no lingering problems. When problems do occur, they include:

  • Difficulty moving the arm due to pain or tightness
  • Mild weakness, which may be due to discomfort
  • Swelling of the arm

Early physical therapy (started soon after surgery) can help these problems go away quickly.


Our physical therapy starts with a one-hour evaluation meeting. During this meeting, the therapists will look at:

  • Any pain complaints
  • Range of motion
  • Posture
  • Strength
  • Joint movement
  • How the surgery site is healing
  • If you're able to reach
  • Nerve movement

We measure your arms and offer help on skin care if you had lymph node surgery. We also offer help on how to take steps to stop lymphedema from starting.

Types of Physical Therapy Treatments

Physical therapy treatments include:

  • Gentle stretching
  • Massage (to improve healing and range of motion)
  • Joint movement
  • Teaching good posture
  • Strengthening
  • Nerve gliding
  • Home exercise

Physical Therapy for Lymphedema

A physical therapist certified to treat lymphedema can offer:

  • To drain the fluid from the area
  • Short-stretch compression bandaging
  • An exercise program
  • Skin care

Physical therapy includes advice on long-term self-help with lymphedema, such as:

  • The use of compression clothes
  • Self-bandaging
  • Additional education

Prevention of Lymphedema

The National Lymphedema Network offers the following guidelines:

  • Skin care: Avoid trauma or injury to reduce infection risk.
  • Activity and lifestyle: Maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight. Gradually increase exercise, and always monitor the affected arm or leg.
  • Avoid restricting the arms or legs: Avoid clothing or activities that could restrict the affected arm or leg, such as a blood pressure cuff or a heavy purse.
  • Compression clothes: Wear well-fitting support clothes on the affected arm or leg. This can be very helpful during strenuous activity or air travel.
  • Extremes of temperature: Avoid very hot or very cold temperatures, and use common sense when using heat therapy.

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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