Myofascial massage may help with recovery after breast cancer surgery

For women with breast cancer, at least one surgical procedure is almost guaranteed.

Common complications of breast surgery include the pain and restricted range of motion that can accompany it. Almost 50 percent of women who have breast cancer surgery have significant pain and decreased range of motion.

Current traditional medical therapies include medication and range of motion-based physical therapy and they are effective.

However, can we do better?

Recent medical research has demonstrated that massage therapy can improve pain levels as well as range of motion in post-surgical breast cancer patients.

It is not uncommon for anyone who has had surgery to develop scar tissue as well as swelling and bruising of the soft tissues resulting in pain and decreased range of motion.

There is reasonable medical evidence to suggest that massage may actually accelerate the healing process and decrease the time needed for recovery from surgery.

A recent medical study published in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork demonstrated that a specific kind of massage, myofascial massage, was able to significantly reduce the pain and disability associated with breast cancer surgery.

In this study, 21 women with pain and disability from breast surgery randomized to receive either myofascial massage focusing on the area of tenderness and disability or, as a control, to receive a Swedish massage, but not in the area of pain and disability.

Each participant received 16 massage sessions over an eight-week period. The participants were questioned about pain, disability and quality of life at the beginning of the study and at the end of the study.

The person evaluating the questionnaires and compiling the data was blinded as to the therapy each participant received.

The participants receiving the myofascial massage had a significant decrease in pain levels as well as a significant increase in mobility and a feeling of better general health and overall quality of life when compared to the control group.

The origins of myofascial massage are in osteopathy and physical therapy.

According to the authors of the study, “Myofascial massage is a technique that focuses on applying fascial holds, stretching, stroking, and varied pressure to tissue at modified depths.”

Breast surgery will cut through a lot of fascia and as the fascia heals it can become tight and inflamed. This method of massage is believed to enhance the function and flexibility of the fascia which is a connective tissue that surrounds most of the organs and muscles in our body.

I frequently see patients who had surgery for breast cancer and are in pain. Rarely is massage recommended by their physicians as part of their recovery process. I often prescribe massage for these patients and in my opinion this should become the norm rather than the exception.

• Dr. Patrick B. Massey, MD, PH.D., is president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village. His website is

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