Healing Moves: Excerises aid in breast cancer recovery

1- Fri., Oct. 21, 2011
- Contributed Photo

Treatment for breast cancer often leaves survivors with stiffness and pain in their arms and shoulders, restiicting movement. Fortunately, there’s an everyday solution to this common problem: exercise.

Physicians have long prescribed arm and shoulder exercises after surgery to prevent pain in the areas surrounding the cancer, but a new review of 24 research studies comprising 2,132 breast cancer patients finds that exercise programs can also help patients recover shoulder and arm movement.

Today, a team comprised of a wide range of health professionals including surgeons and oncologists work together to provide optimal care after breast cancer treatment.

“This review demonstrates that early involvement of a new team member who manages exercise or physical therapy is also useful for the best outcome,” says Douglas Blayney, M.D., medical director at the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.
According to the review, starting exercise within the first to third day after surgery might result in better shoulder movement in the early weeks following surgery. However, “starting exercise that soon after surgery may cause more wound drainage and require drains to remain in place longer than if exercise is delayed by about one week,” says lead review author McNeely, an assistant professor of physical therapy at the University of Alberta and clinical researcher at the Cross Cancer Institute, Canada. Wounds healed, on average, a day later with early exercise.

Fourteen of the reviewed studies compared improvements in shoulder and arm movements of post-treatment groups of women that received an exercise pamphlet with those who did not. Those who followed structured programs including physical therapy regimens in the early postoperative period showed a significant improvement in shoulder range of motion.

Blayney said that he finds few things as disheartening as witnessing breast cancer survivors in long-term follow-up who are burdened with a “frozen” shoulder or daily use of a lymphedema sleeve, an elastic compression garment worn over the arm to help move fluid and reduce swelling. “Implementation of modern primary treatment strategies – including early intervention with suitable exercises – should reduce the incidence of these heartbreaking complications,” Blayney says.

The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research, published this review, which drew evidence-based conclusions considering the content and quality of existing medical trials on the topic.

Many local hospitals, including those in the Eastern Connecticut Health Network, now employ certified Cancer Exercise Trainers, who perform the  appropriate fitness assessments and make exercise recommendations for patients undergoing and recovering from cancer treatments.

© CTW Features

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