Empowering Breast Cancer Patients With Exercise

If your patient has been through breast cancer treatment, you know she’s on a brutal uphill climb. And the battle doesn’t end after the cancer is in remission.

The lump may be removed, but women deal with the psychological trauma of how their lives have changed after treatment. Plus, they may be struggling with limited function of their arms and shoulders after surgery and radiation.

Exercise and physical therapy, however, can be very effective tactics before, during, and after breast cancer treatment.

In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, physical activity after a breast cancer diagnosis has been proven to:

  • Improve quality of life
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Assist with energy balance

It even lowers the risk of cancer recurrence in survivors.

So, along with their families, support groups, and doctors, breast cancer survivors also need physical therapists.

Physical therapists may address things like fatigue, weakness, balance issues, pain management, and strength.

Here’s how exercise for breast cancer patients makes them stronger for the fight before, during, and after treatment.

Overall Benefit Before Treatment

A rehabilitation program that cancer patients start even before treatment begins may mean a speedier recovery, reports an August 2015 Washington Post article.

A structured exercise program can improve patients’ endurance and strength, plus address treatment or mobility issues.

For example, a breast cancer patient may have limited shoulder movement, which can make holding her shoulder in a certain position for treatment quite difficult. These conditions can be evaluated and addressed ahead of time.

This early work can also set a baseline measure, such as the distance a person can walk on a treadmill for a certain length of time. From there, you can set a goal for improvement.

By using an AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill™ to prepare patients for treatment, they may recognize that the partial-weight-bearing technology makes rehab easier. In turn, they may be more likely to participate in a physical therapy program and realize more benefits throughout treatment.

Overall Benefit During Treatment

Exercise may be the last thing your breast cancer patients want to do during treatment, especially chemotherapy. However, cancer patients who exercise during treatment experience multiple benefits, according to an August 2012 study in the research journal Cochrane Database System Review.

Some benefits include:

    • Less fatigue
    • Less sleep disturbance
    • Improved physical function

Fatigue is a particularly debilitating side effect of cancer and cancer treatment. Ironically, lack of exercise can make fatigue worse.

Continued rest actually increases fatigue, while exercise improves stamina and allows patients to get back to their usual routine, says the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Of course, getting these patients to exercise may be easier said than done. Your patients may feel frustrated to hear how great exercise would be for them in the middle of treatment—when even the smallest amount of movement is a trial.

But vigorous movement or excessive straining is not required. For those who may still feel too weak to take on an intensive cardio program, equipment like the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill offers ways to exercise with considerable support.

The AlterG was found to be an effective method for breast cancer survivors to rehabilitate themselves and improve cardiovascular health, according to a 2013 study from Georgia Southern University.

Physical Benefits After Treatment

Recovering from cancer treatment is similar to mountain climbing in that going up the mountain can be just as challenging as coming down.

Though your patient’s body is hopefully now cancer-free, it still has to recover from the often devastating effects of treatment.

Treatment, and particularly surgery, can inhibit how breast cancer patients move their shoulders and arms, comb their hair, or even take a deep breath. Stiffness and pain can also weaken the arms and shoulders, and limit mobility.

After surgical procedures to treat breast cancer, strength training is very helpful in regaining function in the arms, according to the ACS. It’s even more important after radiation therapy, since this treatment often diminishes flexibility.

Regardless of the treatment your breast cancer patients receive, the sooner they start exercises to get their arm, shoulder, and overall body moving, the sooner they can lessen side effects and get back to daily living.

Cancer treatment doesn’t begin or end with chemotherapy. If you have patients undergoing cancer treatment, contact a rep to learn more about how AlterG can help your patients recover safely and comfortably.