Early rehabilitation reduces the onset of complications in the upper limb following breast cancer surgery

Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2012 Dec;48(4):601-11. Epub 2012 Apr 17.


Background: Breast cancer (BC) is currently the most frequent tumor in women. Through the years, BC management has evolved towards conservative surgery. However, even minimally invasive surgery can cause neuromotor and/or articular impairments which can lead to permanent damage, if not adequately treated.

Aim: To clinically evaluate upper ipsilateral limb function and the impact of certain post-surgical consequences arising after invasive or breast-conserving surgery for early BC, by intervening, or not intervening, with an early rehabilitation program. To investigate physical morbidity after sentinel (SLND) or axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) and after reconstructive surgery in the treatment of early BC.

Design: Observational prospective trial.

Setting: Inpatient and outpatient treatment.

Population: Eighty-three females participated in the study: 25 patients did not begin physiotherapy during hospitalization (Group A), 58 patients received early rehabilitation treatment (Group B).

Methods: The patients of Groups A and B were compared with respect to the following criteria: shoulder-arm mobility, upper limb function, and presence of lymphedema. All patients were assessed at 15-30, 60 and 180 days after surgery.

Results: Statistically significant differences, in favor of Group B, were encountered at the 180-day follow-up visit, especially with respect to articular and functional limitation of the upper limb.

Conclusion and clinical rehabilitation impact: The results of the present study show that early assisted mobilization (beginning on the first postoperative day) and home rehabilitation, in conjunction with written information on precautionary hygienic measures to observe, play a crucial role in reducing the occurrence of postoperative side-effects of the upper limb.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arm / physiology
  • Arm / physiopathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / complications
  • Breast Neoplasms / rehabilitation
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Lymph Node Excision / adverse effects
  • Lymph Node Excision / rehabilitation*
  • Mammaplasty / adverse effects
  • Mammaplasty / rehabilitation*
  • Mastectomy, Radical / adverse effects
  • Mastectomy, Radical / rehabilitation*
  • Mastectomy, Segmental / adverse effects
  • Mastectomy, Segmental / rehabilitation*
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control*
  • Postoperative Complications / rehabilitation
  • Prospective Studies
  • Secondary Prevention / methods
  • Shoulder Joint / physiology
  • Shoulder Joint / physiopathology