Mastectomy Pain

Mastectomy pain is often the result of scarring (adhesion formation) that occurs to help the body heal after surgery or radiation therapy. Adhesions that persist after mastectomy surgery can cause ongoing pain or dysfunction, long after the surface scars have healed.

Mastectomy is a life-saving treatment for many women diagnosed with breast cancer. Yet, like other surgeries, it can leave painful adhesions and scarring. Moreover, some patients also experience irreversible nerve damage.

Women who have undergone a mastectomy may experience a variety of post-mastectomy symptoms. Pain may occur at the surgical scar, throughout the chest wall, and into the shoulders and arms. Mild to severe tightness can occur at the surgical site and throughout the chest cavity (and neighboring structures). While pain in some women is attributed to cut nerves (we cannot reverse nerve damage), we do find scarring to be a major cause of pain and tightness, as well as limited arm and shoulder movement (frozen shoulder), and numbness in the chest or arm.

When a patient who has undergone a mastectomy comes to our clinic with pain, our physical therapists evaluate the areas of tension or restricted mobility. They pay particular attention to the areas around incisions. Considering the tendency of adhesions to spread, they then examine the entire body for areas of decreased mobility, tension, and pain.

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