Breast cancer awareness month: How Massage Therapy can help with recovery

Since October is breast cancer awareness month, I thought I would touch on the rehabilitation side of breast cancer.  After going through months and months of treatment and/or surgeries a cancer patient can be left with many physical changes.  Some people can walk away from the treatments and surgeries easily without skipping a beat; for others, it can be a long road to recovery.
Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that there are various ways to help improve their symptoms and facilitate recovery.  I’ve see patients in my clinic who have been suffering in silence for so long and then years later they find out that their discomfort can be improved with a little bit of therapy.  Therapy can take many forms and involve a multitude of disciplines: massage, physiotherapy, physical therapy, lymph therapy, etc.
As a massage therapist and lymphatic therapist, some of the most common complaints I hear from breast cancer patients are:

  • Achy/painful joints during/post chemotherapy
  • Post op edema – a buildup of fluid in the chest/breast and axilla (armpit) after lumpectomy, mastectomy or reconstructive surgery
  • Tightness in the pectoralis muscle (chest muscle) – post mastectomy, reconstructive surgery especially with breast expanders, post chest radiation
  • Reduced range of motion of the shoulder joint – not being able to lift arm above the head after mastectomy, breast reconstruction, lumpectomy, sentinel node dissection
  • Lymphedema – in the chest/breast, axilla, and/or arm after lymph node removal
  • Tightness in the abdomen – post DIEP flap reconstructive surgery
  • Pain/discomfort around the surgical site(s) – from scar tissue restrictions/adhesions
  • Tissue/skin changes – tightening of the skin post radiation

All of the above listed symptoms can be helped and/or managed  with massage therapy, MLD (Manual Lymph Drainage), or a combination of the two.  After an initial assessment, a plan will be developed to provide a treatment timeline and realistic expectations of how symptoms can be improved.
Have a look at the below links for some other great resources to help you through your breast cancer rehab journey.
Wellspring Group Exercise – 12 week online workout program
UHN Toronto Rehab – Health, Exercise, Active Living, Therapeutic Lifestyle (HEALTh) Program
UHN Cancer Rehab and Survivorship Program
Lymphedema Association of Ontario

By Karen Kingsley
Registered Massage Therapist
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Feel Better. Move Better. Be Better.
Our goal is simple —  to provide the best physiotherapy we can!

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