A Physical Therapy Program for      
Breast Cancer Recovery

Physical therapy, along with other physical activity, is integral to your recovery. Aerobic activity, stretching, and strengthening help decrease recovery time, improve functional ability, and aid in preventing a recurrence of breast cancer.

For women recovering from breast cancer, physical therapy is prescribed post-surgery for a number of reasons, including:

physical therapy with diana tjadenTo prepare for radiation.
A certain amount of shoulder range of motion is required to begin treatment.

To reduce post-breast surgery side effects.
• Scar tissue/soft tissue mobility
• Axillary Web Syndrome (AWS) (Cording)
• Flexibility
• Range of motion
• Strength

To combat the side effects of chemotherapy.
• Decreased cardiovascular endurance
• Sarcopenia (defined as age-related loss of lean muscle strength and function, replaced by fat)

What makes physical therapy for breast cancer different from traditional physical therapy?

Manual therapists have been trained to restore scar tissue mobility, range of motion, flexibility, strength, and muscular and cardiovascular endurance. With patients who are recovering from breast cancer, physical therapy specialization requires not only treating these side effects but also having a thorough understanding of specific precautions. These specifics include post-surgical, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy precautions, the importance of scar tissue mobility, stretching, and progressive strengthening. Treating a patient with breast cancer without this knowledge could actually jeopardize her recovery.

A specialist in breast cancer recovery understands the FOLLOWING:

pt equipment breast cancer exercisesScar Tissue

The nature of this type of surgery is that it tends to produce a lot of scar tissue, which contributes significantly to breast cancer pain and discomfort and loss of range of motion. If addressed in a timely fashion, between 3 months to 2 years post-breast surgery, a dramatic change can be made.

Radiation therapy

This type of therapy not only changes tissue characteristics by making it more susceptible to breakdown, it continues to make tissues tighter for 2 to 5 years following treatment. Decreased flexibility, range of motion, and soft tissue mobility need to be addressed in physical therapy.


This is a key component of physical therapy when it comes to helping the patient return to functional activities. It is very important to understand the need to be progressed slowly and with proper form. Guidance is a necessity due to the increased risk of lymphedema if progressed too quickly.


This is one of the biggest fears reported by survivors. Education is key not only to understanding the precautions, but in understanding the signs and symptoms of the condition. The ability to listen to your own body and adjust your activities accordingly is one of the most valuable skills you can learn.

Even if you don't actually have pain or limited function at this time, surgery and treatment of this condition have irreversible effects if not addressed in a timely and proper fashion. If these effects are not addressed, at some point pain and disability will be present.

The Full Circle Breast Cancer Recovery program was developed to focus on these specific issues, and should be part of your overall health and recovery.