How Baseline Physical Therapy Testing Helps with Breast Cancer Side Effects

How Physical Therapy Can Help Recovery After Breast Cancer

For anyone undergoing conventional breast cancer treatments (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy), working with a physical therapist (PT) will almost certainly be beneficial, if not vital.  See our Breast Cancer Rehab page for details on the potential side-effects of these common treatments.

There are multiple ways to address these “impairments,” but one of the most important is physical therapy.  PT can help prevent, reduce, or eliminate neuropathy, lymphedema, stiffness, pain, muscle weakness, tissue toughening (fibrosis), and a host of other common side-effects.  And as with PT in general, the sooner you start, the better.

The “Prospective Surveillance Model” for Breast Cancer Patients

Since 2011, many medical professionals have advocated for a “prospective” (forward-looking; proactive) method of dealing with impairments related to breast cancer treatments such as stiffness, lymphedema, neuropathy, etc.  In plain language this means “Start working against breast cancer treatment side-effects before you even start the treatments.”  The first step is to establish a baseline of where your health is now, by measuring things like:

  • Arm girth or volume (increases later may signal swelling from lymphedema)
  • Any pre-treatment movement restrictions
  • Basic body strength
  • Weight
  • Activity level

If you're interested, you can read the original full description of the Prospective Surveillance Model (PSM).

Physical therapist observes a cancer patient stretching during an exerciseHow Baseline Testing Leads to Greater Effectiveness and Lower Costs

Before Treatment or Surgery / “Prehab”

The PSM advocates for addressing any possible issues even before breast cancer treatment begins, both to resolve any existing issues that might impact the treatments, and to “get ahead” of the likely side-effects.  This is a “preventative care” model, like with your dentist or eye doctor -- proactive, not reactive.  Expert “prehab” can make treatments more effective and can lessen or “detox” their ill effects more rapidly (through moving the lymph, for instance).  This means less chance of severe side effects, less need for pain meds, and probably a lessened need for rehab later.

During Treatment

During breast cancer treatment, follow-up appointments compare your condition against your pre-treatment baseline, anticipating problems and addressing them before they become severe–maybe even before you begin to notice. A certain percentage increase in arm volume, for instance, might be a clue that edema is beginning; your therapist can then teach you self-massage techniques, schedule a LymphaTouch® session or manual lymph drainage and prescribe any recommended compression.

Post-Treatment Surveillance

Some treatment-related impairments show up quickly, but many don’t appear until months or years after breast cancer treatment has stopped.  Therefore, regular follow-up appointments are critical.  Your therapist will make objective comparisons against your pre-treatment baseline (and against your previous appointments) and will be able to see what’s getting better -- or what needs attention.

So, a few last words about “lower costs” -- and this refers not just to financial costs, but to physical, time, and “quality of life” costs:

  • Surgery and chemo cause scarring and toughening of tissues.  These issues can be (at least partially) resolved… but that’s expensive.  It might even require additional surgery.  
  • Neuropathy is one very common side-effect of chemotherapy.  It can be (among other things) very painful.  Paid medications are expensive, and they don’t fix any root problems–in fact they tend to cause problems of their own.  
  • Nerve damage leads to muscle weakness, which can lead to balance problems, which can lead to falls and fractures.  These are expensive, debilitating, and potentially life-threatening.

If you're diagnosed with breast cancer, isn’t it better to plan for all these (and other) problems, and to “head them off at the pass” as much as possible?  That’s what the PSM is designed to do, and that’s how Oncology Rehab & Wellness, as an office, is built to function.

If you are anticipating or currently undergoing any conventional cancer treatment, please also mitigate the side effects, and schedule a free 15-minute consultation with us today.