Caitlin Sweeney, PT, DPT, OCS, CLT is a physical therapist at Inova Physical Therapy Centers and Life With Cancer, a program of Inova Schar Cancer Institutethat enhances the quality of life for those with cancer by providing education, information and support free of charge. She specializes in oncology rehabilitation and treatment of lymphedema.
When you receive a breast cancer diagnosis, exercise probably isn’t top of mind. Between doctors’ appointments, treatments, your career and family responsibilities, who has the time? Yet, research suggests exercise plays an important role in helping you maintain your functional abilities and can actually create less fatigue throughout cancer treatment.
Targeted exercises before, during and after treatment not only improves your ability to complete cancer treatment, it may also enhance your quality of life.
Prior to treatment, you’ll receive education to prepare for potential challenges you may experience as a result of your cancer treatment. Your physical therapist will also take baseline measurements to get a sense of your current level of function.
These measurements are especially important if you’re undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. After your initial evaluation, your physical therapist will recommend a follow up appointment for further assessment dependent on your cancer treatment plan.
Fatigue is one of the hallmarks of cancer treatment. In addition to recommending a light exercise program during treatment, our physical therapists work on the shoulder joints, chest muscles and any other upper body muscles that are tight or painful. The goal: to ensure you can wash your hair, fasten your bra, pull your sweatshirt over your head and care of your family as you’re used to doing.
Two weeks after surgery, your physical therapist will take additional measurements and compare them to your baseline. If you’re experiencing pain, weakness in the arm, postural changes or limited motion, we target exercises accordingly. We may even recommend a prophylactic garment or sleeve to address or prevent lymphedema.
Regular exercise after treatment helps rebuild your strength and endurance, returning you to your prior level of function and can also boost your energy levels.
Physical therapy can make the breast cancer journey easier while helping you recover more quickly and experience less pain.
As physical therapists, our job is to address your specific needs. If you’re experiencing limited function, struggling with every day movements or notice pain, tightness, or swelling, please know that we’re here to help you.
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