One of the biggest challenges for breast cancer patients who have undergone breast surgery is the loss of range of motion due to the presence of scar tissue. Breast tissue is very delicate and scars to a higher degree than other areas of the body, so after a surgical procedure, such as a mastectomy or lumpectomy, the tissue can draw inward and harden, and limit flexibility. This often occurs along the incision and the drain sites. It can also occur in patients who have undergone radiation therapy.
As a result, many patients will find it difficult to raise the arm to perform simple tasks like showering, fastening a bra or reaching up into a cabinet. It’s important to seek out therapy after surgery to eliminate this build-up of scar tissue and to restore everyday function and mobility.
While manual therapy has long been used to address loss of range of motion, recent studies have shown ASTYM therapy — short for Augmented Soft Tissue Mobilization — to have very positive results in improving function and range of motion in breast cancer patients. ASTYM is a relatively new form of non-invasive soft tissue therapy used to effectively break down the scar tissue and trigger a reparative response. The process is simple but highly effective when administered correctly. Using a “scraping” motion, a certified clinician will gently run a small, smooth, hard plastic tool over the surface of the skin to find areas below the skin where scar tissue is present. This is done with the help of a lubricant to ease discomfort. These deliberative movements find and loosen scar tissue so that the body can reabsorb it. And, at the same time, it stimulates the production of new tissue. At the end of the therapy session, the clinician will also provide stretching and strengthening exercises to reinforce the work accomplished by the ASTYM stimulation.
Patients often feel increased range of motion and/or decreased tightness even after the first session of treatment. After a few sessions, significant flexibility can return as more scar tissue is reabsorbed and the body grows healthy new tissues.
For more information about ASTYM therapy for post-surgery breast cancer patients, please contact us at (706) 225-0380.
Laura Sherwood, PT, DPT, OCS is a licensed Physical Therapist at St. Francis Rehab Main Street Village in Columbus, GA. She is an APTA Board Certified Clinical Orthopedic Specialist (OCS) and an APTA Credentialed Clinical Instructor. Laura is certified in dry needling and ASTYM. Her special interests include orthopedic, neurological and lymphedema-related conditions.