Effectiveness of Physiotherapy after breast cancer

Treating postoperative pain and ROM problems in breast cancer patients: what works and when to start?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. Both screening and treatment of breast cancer have improved significantly over the last few years, resulting in higher survival rates. To improve quality of life of survivors, many recent studies have focused on the complications related to breast cancer treatment. Among other aspects, quality of life is reduced by impairments of the upper limb (e.g. pain, impaired shoulder mobility, decreased strength, arm lymphedema).

In the acute treatment phase of the cancer, breast and axillary surgery and radiotherapy cause scar tissue formation, wound formation, fibrosis, and shortening of soft tissues (eg, pectoral muscles). Initially, this may lead to upper-limb impairments, such as local postoperative pain and a subsequent decrease in range of motion (ROM). In a further postoperative stage, adhesive capsulitis, myofascial dysfunctions, and/ or nerve dysfunctions can also cause pain and impaired shoulder mobility. Forward shoulder position, induced by the shortened pectoral muscles and narrowing of the subacromial space, may lead to rotator cuff diseases, which can be painful and may limit upper-limb movements as well.

Besides pain and impaired shoulder mobility, decreased strength of the upper limb may be present in the short term and long term. These impairments of the upper limb may all lead to difficulties in performing activities of daily living. Another possible provoking factor of pain and impaired shoulder mobility may be lymphovascular disorders (e.g. axillary web syndrome) and the development of lymphedema.

Curious about the rest of the article?

Not yet a member of the Anatomy & Physiotherapy Society?
Check out the benefits of a membership and give it a try today. 

Already a member? Login here below

Signup for our weekly or monthly newsletter and get notified on updates on the themes you're interested in:


Please enable the javascript to submit this form

Anatomy & Physiotherapy
Rijksweg Zuid 99
6134 AA Sittard
The Netherlands

Dutch Chamber
of Commerce 58306862
V.A.T. number 852977177B01
IBAN NL28INGB0008954265

A&P is a brand of