Breast Cancer Rehabilitation – What Our Physio Can Do For You | Element Physio

Cancer is one of the scariest words you can hear from your doctor, and breast cancer is the cancer most often diagnosed in women. Thankfully, more people than ever are surviving breast cancer. On average, 87% of people diagnosed with breast cancer survive 5 years after their diagnosis. This is wonderful news, and provides hope for the thousands of Canadian women diagnosed with breast cancer every year. This also means that more and more women are living with the side effects of breast cancer treatment, and for longer.

Most commonly, treatment for breast cancer includes a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, which is decided by your oncology team. All of these treatments come with several potential side effects. Physiotherapy (and our therapists) can help you manage these physical side effects of treatment, both during treatment and after treatment has finished.

What can physiotherapy help with during and after breast cancer treatment?


  • This is a common side effect of both radiation and chemotherapy
  • Physiotherapy can help you learn to manage your fatigue, through education and an exercise program


  • Shoulder and neck pain are common with both surgical treatment and radiation, and joint pain may occur with some types of chemotherapy
  • Modalities, manual therapy, and exercise can help manage shoulder, neck, and general joint pain


  • Chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy may occur after a patient undergoes chemotherapy. What this means is that there is damage to nerves, most commonly in the hands and feet, caused by the chemicals delivered through chemotherapy
  • Neuropathies can impact your balance and ability to walk, and may be painful. Lack of sensation in your feet can also lead to foot injuries that you may not realize you have
  • Your physiotherapist can offer modalities (electro-therapeutic machines) to help decrease your pain, provide education and an exercise program to help manage your peripheral neuropathy. The goal is to reduce your risk of further injury and improve your balance

Shoulder Function

  • Shoulder range of motion can be affected both by surgery and radiation, and can affect your ability to perform every day tasks. Physiotherapy can help maintain your range of motion during treatment, and improve it after treatment has finished, through a combination of manual therapy, exercise, and physiotherapy modalities
  • Scar tissue adhesion can occur whether you had a lumpectomy or a mastectomy with or without a reconstruction. If a reconstruction was done, scar adhesion may occur at the site the donor tissue was retrieved from, as well at the breast and into the armpit/arm. The scar tissue formation can impact shoulder mobility and cause pain. Physiotherapy can help decrease the sensitivity of the scar and improve the elasticity of the scar to improve shoulder motion.
  • Arm strength can also be impacted during cancer treatment, and a physiotherapist can help you return to a strengthening program gradually and safely, which is important to reduce the risk of developing lymphedema (swelling in the arm due to the removal of lymph nodes/radiation).
  • Axillary web syndrome, or ‘cording’, may occur after shoulder, impacting shoulder function. This is when a ropey structure forms in the armpit, which can extend down the arm, limiting shoulder movement. Physiotherapy can help reduce the presence of cording
  • Physiotherapy begins immediately after surgery, but should NOT end after discharge from the hospital.

Return to Exercise

  • It can be scary to return to exercise after treatment, and returning to heavy exercise too quickly can increase your risk of lymphedema
  • Our physiotherapist, Carly, can guide you through your return to exercise to minimize this risk, as well as provide you education on how to minimize your risk of developing lymphedema


Medical treatment for cancer can save your life and physiotherapy during and after your cancer treatment can help improve your quality of life. Carly is excited to offer services for patients with breast cancer and help you get back to doing the things you love to do.


  1. Harris, S. R., Schmitz, K. H., Campbell, K. L., McNeely, M. L. (2012) Clinical practice guidelines for breast cancer rehabilitation: Synthesis of guideline recommendations and qualitative appraisals. Cancer, 118 (8), 2312-2324.
  2. Course notes from Jodi Steele: Advanced Rehab Techniques for Breast Cancer Management
  3. Canadian Cancer Society Breast Cancer Statistics