Axillary lymph node dissection and axillary radiation as part of breast cancer treatment often result in arm and shoulder morbidity and limitations in daily functioning. Over and above the general benefits for cardiorespiratory fitness, Nordic Walking particularly targets at the muscles of the upper extremities and shoulder. This may increase shoulder range of motion and lead to a reduction in functional limitations. The aim of this study was to offer a Nordic Walking intervention to women after treatment for breast cancer and to investigate changes in subjective well-being and shoulder function. Three supervised Nordic Walking courses were organized (2009-2011). The intervention consisted of ten weekly 1-hour sessions focusing on upper body strength and condition. In total, 28 women participated in one of the cohorts. Results showed that after 10 weeks, patients' vitality had improved, whereas perceived shoulder symptom severity and limitations in daily activities had decreased. Goniometric data indicated that range of motion (forward flexion, abduction, and external rotation) of the affected shoulder improved significantly within 10 weeks of training. Group interviews at 6 months follow-up confirmed that patients had appreciated the physical and psychosocial benefits of the intervention. These benefits outweighed the practical disadvantages. Patient selection, assessment and training should take place under (para-)medical supervision and group instructors should have the knowledge and skills to work with a group of recent cancer survivors. Results from this explorative study suggest that Nordic Walking is a feasible and potentially valuable tool in the rehabilitation of patients with breast cancer.
Keywords: Nordic Walking; breast cancer; exercise; range of motion; rehabilitation; shoulder morbidity.