Mastectomy or the removal of lumps in the breast tissue is a common treatment for breast cancer. Post surgery, you will have scar tissue form, which can cause various issues for the individual. Its varied how much scar tissue you will have due to the area and the amount of tissue removed, however; weather a large or small amount, the scar tissue can cause a lot of discomfort.
Over the past 7 years of my massage career, I have seen many woman come into my practice with extreme pain and often loss of their shoulder range of motion since their lumpectomy. Often it has been years that the woman has been dealing with the pain and many times the pain goes away with only a couple of massage treatments.
Removing tissue from the breast will cause scaring both on the outside as well as on the inside of the body. Often the scar tissue will adhere to the underlying tissues causing the extreme discomfort when the tissues are stretched and pulled. Due to the pain, it may stop an individual from over stretching the arm and/or allowing normal ROM with the shoulder joint.
The shoulder is a very complex area, with many different muscles and tissues which affect the movement of the joint. Each muscle pulls on the joint in different directions giving it the support it needs. If one area of muscles becomes shortened, it will cause the other areas to work harder to compensate for the imbalance. Often with scars, the tissue will begin to pull in towards the central scar area causing the muscles in the surrounding area to shorten and tighten. This is a secondary affect to the scar tissue discomfort and can often cause structural changes in the shoulder, often presenting like “frozen shoulder”.
As a massage therapist I can work on this scar tissue helping to decrease the pull it may have on surrounding structures and decrease and generally eliminate any pain. Treating the issue immediately will help limit any secondary issues which can occur.
If you have recently had a lump or breast removed I would highly suggest seeing a Registered Massage Therapist for treatment. Here are a few points you should know.
- You can have your scars treated once you are completely healed, often 6 weeks post surgery.
- If you have had lymph nodes removed, inform the RMT, you should not have deep tissue massage directly on the area however you can have lighter massage and stretching.
- It is common to have pain with the massage, it is generally an aggressive treatment however the short term pain can be well worth the long term gains.
- If you are being treated with chemotherapy or radiation, you can seek massage however it’s best if it’s 4-7 days post treatment. Massage will release toxins in the area and promote healing if you are uncomfortable reveling your breast tissue to your therapist, ask to have a sheet to cover you or keep your clothes on.
- Always ask the therapist if they are comfortable and knowledgable about working with breast tissue.
Massage can help decrease tension, anxiety and depression which often occurs with breast cancer. With most of my clients they were afraid to talk about their pain, ashamed of the scar and scared to touch the area. It is understandable that it can be a difficult subject, however; doing self massage on the affected area is also very powerful and can help eliminate any pain or tension in the area. Before being treated with massage therapy please ask your primary physician if massage can safely help and benefit you. Be sure to seek massage, only from a Registered Massage Therapist.
Michelle Wolfe, RMT