Life after breast cancer: Unique physical therapy program offers relief from side effects - Ahwatukee Foothills News: News

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Life after breast cancer: Unique physical therapy program offers relief from side effects

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Posted: Sunday, October 13, 2013 3:45 am

Many women who have gone through breast cancer treatments end up losing some range of motion in their arm or shoulder, but physical therapists at Spooner Physical Therapy in Ahwatukee Foothills say they have a program that can fix the problem and get women back to doing all they did before their lives were changed by cancer.

“The biggest thing is really just the increase in confidence and the ability to go back to their prior level of function and continue their quality of life,” said LaRissa Stewart, clinic director at the Ahwatukee location.

Clients at Spooner have seen great results from their Breast Cancer Rehab program, which uses gentle massage and stretches to work out any stiffness left over from surgery or radiation treatments.

“Most patients feel guarded or protected after breast cancer treatments,” Stewart said. “When doctors remove lymph nodes it can increase the patient’s chance of getting lymphedema so they may be protective of that area. They don’t want to do the wrong exercises. We can show them stretches and exercises that actually lessen their chances of getting lymphedema.”

Heather Clarke, a client at Spooner, said physical therapy was recommended to her by her plastic surgeon when she complained about some stiffness after a double mastectomy in June.

“I went in for a follow up with her and she noticed my range of motion was being affected,” she said. “The scar tissue from surgery was starting to limit my ability to lift my arm all the way and to pick up heavy items from a high shelf or from the top of the closet… I couldn’t take care of my child or cook for my family or do the laundry. It affected everything. It was tough just knowing the things you could do before were suddenly painful or hard and you had to ask for help when you’re used to taking care of everything yourself.”

Clarke began making regular visits to Spooner and said within two weeks she began to notice a big difference. Today, after just a few months of physical therapy, her range of motion is almost completely back to normal.

“It’s self empowering again and a relief to know it’s going to get better and has the ability to be 100 percent again,” she said. “I won’t have to continue with the pain or discomfort or relying on others as much as I had to right after surgery… This is the first time I’m starting to feel like this is all my body again.”

Stewart said she likes to stress to her clients that having a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery is just like any other replacement surgery. A new knee or hip all require physical therapy to get back to a normal quality of life.

“We really want patients to know that after surgery it’s just like any other replacement surgery,” she said. “If they’re experiencing pain after surgery there are extra steps that can help them and resources available… I just felt like there was a large piece missing in the continual care of those who have been through breast cancer. I just feel like I’m filling in that last gap and getting them back to their prior level of function.”

While the majority of patients in the Breast Cancer Rehab program at Spooner have been through surgery recently, the treatments can be modified to help any women who have been through breast cancer treatments, even if it happened years ago. The pain and discomfort and loss of strength can last for years if not treated. With treatment it can be restored.

Spooner Physical Therapy is located at 16611 S. 40th St., Suite 130. For more information, visit or call (480) 706-1199.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or

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