LiveSmart: Breast Cancer Survivors Encouraged to Find Their Fitness

[This piece was written by Nancy J. Sterantino, PT, MHA, supervisor of St. Peter’s Physical Therapy & Fitness.]

From family members to close friends, everyone knows someone whose life has been touched by breast cancer. Likewise, many people know a breast cancer survivor who has faced some type of impairment in their quest to return to their previous work, home, recreation and social activity levels.

For some survivors, impairments may include pain; fatigue; generalized muscle weakness; poor posture; scar adhesions reducing range of motion; gait, balance and mobility issues; and lymphedema. The key for many to overcoming those hurdles is something every one of us can benefit from: Regular exercise.

Countless studies have shown regular physical activity can help to improve your balance, strength and posture, decrease pain, and improve your overall mood. And research presented at the 2018 Cancer Survivorship Symposium found that exercise had both short- and long-term benefits for cancer patients dealing with fatigue, helping to minimize the physical, psychological and cognitive impairments caused by treatment.

For breast cancer survivors who may have not been particularly active before their diagnosis and surgery, the thought of regular exercise can be daunting. Where do I begin? How much is too much?

The first step is to talk to your physician, who can help you determine when the time is right to start or resume an exercise program following your treatment. Establishing an exercise routine can help restore function, reduce symptoms, and help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle after treatment.

For individuals new to exercise, or those experiencing limitations in their return to the gym, a supervised exercise program to establish good habits and proper form can often be useful. Talk to your physician about a prescription to see a trained physical therapist, who can provide the proper guidance to get you started.

Your visit to a physical therapist would ideally include an initial discussion regarding your goals and health history, as well as any medications you may be taking. The physical therapist would work with you to develop a medically-safe routine that you could do at home or a local gym, depending on your needs and access.

Survivors can also rely on their physical therapist to provide a variety of techniques to help improve tissue mobility and reduce scar adhesions, teach management techniques to reduce and control lymphedema, improve posture and muscle imbalances, provide education about correct posture and body mechanics, and teach balance and coordination activities to help improve ambulation and decrease risk of falls.

St. Peter’s Physical Therapy & Fitness offers a full range of outpatient physical and occupational therapy services, at 1240 New Scotland Road in Slingerlands. St. Peter’s Health Partners Patient Therapies has a variety of outpatient occupational therapists at locations throughout the Capital District, accepting all insurances and providing quality one-on-one treatment. For information, please call 518-475-1818.

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