Physiotherapy helpful after breast cancer surgery

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Women may benefit from physiotherapy if they experience shoulder pain and reduced arm function after they undergo surgery for breast cancer, doctors from the Netherlands report.

Physiotherapy is effective for shoulder disorders unrelated to breast cancer, Dr. Carien H. G. Beurskens from Radbound University Nijmegen Medical Centre and colleagues note in their report in the online journal BMC-Cancer.

However, the value of physiotherapy was not known for shoulder complaints arising after breast cancer surgery with removal of lymph nodes from the armpit.

To investigate, Beurskens’ team randomly assigned 30 women with shoulder problem following the surgery to physiotherapy or to a comparison “control” group.

Physiotherapy, which started two weeks after surgery, consisted of nine sessions, with soft tissue massage to the surgical scar if needed, given within three months. The control group had no physiotherapy and received only a leaflet with advice and arm/shoulder exercises.

After three and six months, the physiotherapy group showed a “significant improvement in shoulder mobility and had significantly less pain than the control group,” the researchers report.

Quality of life also improved significantly for women who had physiotherapy and there was a positive trend toward improved handgrip strength.

Before physiotherapy, most women indicated that they avoided social activities and this “improved greatly following therapy,” Beurskens and colleagues report.

They recommend that women with shoulder problems after breast cancer and lymph node surgery “should be referred to a physiotherapist.”

SOURCE: BMC-Cancer, 2007.