Finding help for pain after breast surgery

September 3, 2012

Breast Pain from surgery, scar tissue, nerve pain

If you have been treated for breast cancer, you may have one or two mastectomies. You may also have had reconstructive surgery and implants to restore your breast shape. These surgeries involve alteration of your chest tissues. Your personal sense of self can feel disfigured too.  You may have pain in the front, the sides or the back of your ribcage, or your spine.

There can be many emotional and physical challenges that you have to face. With breast cancer, a private and sexual part of you becomes exposed, altered and significantly modified. Pain after mastectomy or reconstruction surgery is actually fairly likely.  According to a 1996 research study published in PubMed, 33-50% of women have ongoing pain following  mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

It can be difficult to find someone to help with the pain. It can be difficult to find the source of the pain. Sometimes there is nerve pain following mastectomy. Sometimes there is muscle pain after mastectomy. Neither of these pain sources will be easily identified.  X-rays and other imaging studies typically don’t show the problem.  Scar tissue is also often said to cause your pain.  A surgical solution is sometimes offered but this can then put you at risk for more pain and recovery.

Treatment for breast pain

An alternative option is to consider treatment for the muscle pain component of the pain cycle. Ongoing muscle pain may not become resolved with the stretching and exercising you did soon after surgery. Protective sustained muscle spasm from the main mastectomy surgery and the stretching from implants may not abate over time. This is counter intuitive. Usually after an injured area heals, the muscle tightening in the area gradually goes away and comfort returns.

Healing emotions affected by surgery  and reconstruction

Emotional holding patterns may also be part  of your pain complex.  In dealing with breast cancer, the threat of terminal illness, disfigurement, fear, pain and body exposure can continue to promote constricting and tensing patterns in your painful areas. Treatment can help your body support movements and posture that aligns with a  return of comfortable emotions.  You may need help to regain the physical participation, motions, and expression of trust, security, confidence in appearance, and comfort with your sexuality in the rib cage area of your body.  If your emotions express themselves around this injured place but not including this area, there will be a sense of being somewhat diminished in the full sense of these emotions.

Evaluating the causes of  post mastectomy pain

When I treat post mastectomy and post reconstructive pain I gently evaluate the quality of movement and the elastic and supple properties of the muscles on your chest wall, between the ribs, and along the spine.  It is common to find deeply established muscle holding patterns of shortened muscle that fails to remain lengthened after typical stretches are done.Treatment  with Rachel Katz, PT  in south Boulder is gentle and directed at the unconscious holding and tensing in your muscles. This kind of therapy is not like a sports medicine type of stretching and strengthening. It is about restoring the background resting state of your muscles to what it was before the surgeries. My treatment includes attention to your large muscles which are the pectoralis major and minor and the deep layers of your ribcage and spine.

Usually as the muscles return to normal the pain levels decrease. You may be able to return to living pain free.

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