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Stories about the people and innovations taking place at MossRehab.

Benefits of Physical Therapy for Breast Cancer Survivors
By: Peter Schnellenberger
Nov 12 2020

MossRehab Cancer Rehabilitation Program helps breast cancer survivors live their best life by offering therapies that help manage different issues related to chemotherapy and radiation treatments such as pain, balance, limb swelling, speech and more.  Many may experience lymphedema or body swelling due to the removal of lymph nodes or radiation therapy.  Trish Cane, clinical manager at MossRehab and faculty member in the orthopedic PT residency programs discusses how decongestive therapy can help treatment lymphedema in a podcast with Michele Moravec, a Moss physical therapist who is both a board-certified clinical specialist in oncologic physical therapy and a certified lymphedema therapist. 

What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a buildup of fluid in tissues cause by damage during surgery, radiation, infection or trauma that causes swelling in a specific part of the body.  For breast cancer patients, swelling is typically in the arm on the same side cancer.  While its onset may begin years after breast cancer diagnosis, those who undergo surgery or radiation therapy are at lifetime risk.

Breast cancer survivors experiencing pain and issues related to arms and shoulders often don’t seek medical attention, expecting a lower quality of life and often just feeling lucky to be alive.  However, MossRehab cancer rehabilitation experts can offer therapies that help manage breast cancer-related conditions, especially lymphedema.

Decongestive Therapy Treats Lymphedema

Decongestive Lymphatic Therapy is the gold standard of lymphedema treatment that combines meticulous skincare, gentle exercise, compression therapy, and specialized manual lymph drainage massage.

Breaking down the four basic elements of the Decongestive Lymphatic Therapy:

  1. Skincare is imperative as swelling related to lymphedema typically contains body toxins that can breed bacteria in the skin.  In addition to cleaning and moisturizing skin, avoiding cuts and skin breakdown is important.
  2. Gentle exercise that includes physical activity and strengthening exercises may help with swelling.   Studies report that exercise proves very important not only for long-term survivorship and wellness but during active treatments. The key to exercise is to go slowly with a graded strengthening program.
  3. Compression therapy that includes the use of garments such as arm sleeves helps maintain a reduction in swelling achieved through decongestive therapy.  A certified fitter at a garment store or certified lymphedema therapist can determine the best size so compression garments don’t dig into the skin. 
  4. Finally, lymphatic drainage massage encourages the movement of lymph fluids to reduce swelling and improve circulation through the lymphatic system.  Trained professionals such as those at MossRehab should perform this specialized massage that stimulates lymph movement.

Symptoms of Lymphedema

Cancer survivors feeling tightness or heaviness in the arms or noticing jewelry or clothing doesn’t fit should talk to their oncologists.  Treating lymphedema at its earliest stages when it is mild can stop its progress into severe stages where swelling is more pronounced along with skin changes.

In its relentless pursuit of new solutions, MossRehab received a grant from the Albert Einstein Society to develop a program to screen newly-diagnosed breast cancer survivors for lymphedema.  As pioneers of innovative technology, MossRehab can detect swelling months before its visible so therapy can begin in the early stages of the condition.  

Read a transcript of the MossRehabpodcast on how decongestive therapy helps treat lymphedema here.

To read other MossRehab stories, visit mossrehab.com/blogs.
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