Breast Cancer-Physical Therapy

Back Into the Swing of Life

Following surgery for breast cancer, when her radiation oncologist noticed a tightness across her elbow and shoulder, Joan was quickly referred to the physical therapists at Milford Regional.Mobility is big part of Joan McMullen’s life. As an exercise instructor and leader of a walking group, the seventy-seven year old woman from Hopedale is on the go. So when her radiation oncologist noticed a tightness across her elbow and shoulder at her first treatment after breast surgery, she was quickly referred to the physical therapists at Milford Regional.

Because the Breast Center at Milford Regional brings together the entire healthcare team, this type of referral is fast and fluid. Joan was referred to physical therapist Joni Brown who is the director of Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine. “I had serious adhesions and tightness on my arm and I wasn’t able to stretch my arm to its full length,” Joan recalls. “But after working with Joni on exercises and massage, I got one hundred percent of my range of motion back, which was very important to me.”

Over the course of twice weekly visits for several weeks, Joan worked with Joni to regain her range of motion. Joan had developed a condition called cording, which occurs when subcutaneous tissue forms cord-like bands, causing pain and restricted movement. Cording can develop when lymph nodes are removed which is a common part of breast cancer surgery. Joni initially worked with Joan on gently stretching these bands of tissue. She also used soft tissue massage to loosen up the tight areas. When Joan’s arm and shoulder were looser, she was given some strengthening exercises to keep the arm strong. Joan also repeated the exercises at home.

During her therapy, Joni noticed that Joan was beginning to develop some lymphedema or swelling to her arm. Lymphedema can occur when lymph nodes are removed or damaged. Treatment involves compression and lymphatic drainage. Joni gave Joan a special stocking to wear on her arm that helped the fluid drain, performed manual lymphatic drainage which reduced the swelling, and taught her how to massage her arm at home. Since the treatment started so early, Joan’s lymphedema resolved easily—and without complications.

The physical therapy made a significant difference in Joan’s mobility. “Joni just knew her work so well,” she exclaims. “She just knew exactly what I needed and prescribed the exact exercises I needed. She was also very understanding, very supportive. Because of physical therapy I was able to get back to my normal activities. I was able to resume my normal activities even before I finished working with Joni. The exercises she gave me were so good that I use them with my stretch group; they’re that good.”

Go to In Their Own Words

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