Arm Troubles after Surgery
In spite of true technical advances with breast cancer surgery (most particularly, in spite of the increasing use of sentinel node dissection rather than full axillary sampling), many women experience difficulties with the use of an arm. These troubles include limited range of motion, stiffness, and, occasionally, real pain with stretching and movement. Ideally, all women should have access to a physical therapist who is skilled in working with women post breast surgery. Very ideally, women who are having a mastectomy (with or without reconstruction) should also have a consultation with a physical therapist prior to surgery. There are a number of simple exercises that can be done before the operation which will likely minimize trouble later.
A recent Canadian study found that many women do experience arm morbidity after breast cancer surgery. A troubling finding was that these problems result in many women reducing or changing some of their recreational and exercise activities. Per usual, there are no easy answers here, but it is clearly important for women to do all that they can to reclaim their bodies and enjoy their lives. If you are experiencing any limitations due to your arm, ask one of your doctors for a referral to a physical therapist. It will make a difference.