After your surgery, your surgeon may send you to see a physical therapist. This health care professional will be responsible for helping your body return to its maximum strength and flexibility. They can address any of the following postsurgical issues you may be experiencing:
Following lumpectomy, axillary node dissection, or mastectomy, scar tissue can set in and limit range of motion. Scar tissue is thick, fibrous material with little or no suppleness. It can prevent you from fully using your arm on the operated side. It can also prevent you from maintaining good posture, which can lead to chronic back and shoulder problems. The physical therapist can apply pressure therapy to soften up and dissolve the scar tissue, and may teach you techniques to use at home. The therapist also oversees specific exercises to help you regain your strength and mobility.
Axillary node dissection may lead to lymphedema, which is a swelling of the trunk, arm, hand, or breast due to collection of fluid in the tissues. A qualified physical therapist can provide manual decongestive therapy, which is a technique that promotes fluid flow back into your bloodstream, where it belongs. Some patients require compression garments for lymphedema. The physical therapist can make sure that the garments are fitting properly and that they are being used correctly. If other types of compression for lymphedema are needed, the physical therapist will supervise your use of them.
Axillary node dissection may also lead to cording, which is the formation of bands of scar tissue that can extend from your armpit down the arm. These cords may be visible beneath the skin, and they may be easy to feel. Cording creates a pulling sensation with arm movements and limits mobility. Sometimes it is painful. A breast surgery physical therapist is specially trained to manually release cording, restoring range of motion and relieving pain.
Physical therapy may be prescribed a few weeks after your surgery or even months later. Scar tissue can set in at any time and if it is causing problems, a physical therapist should be able to help. You should let your physician know if you feel that scar tissue is developing and is limiting your activities. A visit to the physical therapist will likely improve the situation.