, Volume 133, Issue 2, pp 667-676
Date: 29 Jan 2012

Upper limb progressive resistance training and stretching exercises following surgery for early breast cancer: a randomized controlled trial

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The aim of this study was to determine whether an exercise program, commencing 4–6 weeks post-operatively, reduces upper limb impairments in women treated for early breast cancer. Women (n = 160) were randomized to either an 8-week exercise program (n = 81) or to a control group (n = 79) following stratification for axillary surgery. The exercise program comprised a weekly session and home program of passive stretching and progressive resistance training for shoulder muscles. The control group attended fortnightly assessments but no exercises were provided. The primary outcome was self-reported arm symptoms derived from the EORTC breast cancer-specific questionnaire (BR23), scored out of 100 with a low score indicative of fewer symptoms. The secondary outcomes included physical measures of shoulder range of motion, strength, and swelling (i.e., lymphedema). Women were assessed immediately following the intervention and at 6 months post-intervention. The change in symptoms from baseline was not significantly different between groups immediately following the intervention or at 6 m post-intervention. The between group difference immediately following the intervention was 4 (95% CI −1 to 9) and 6 months post-intervention was 4 (−2 to 10). However, the change in range of motion for flexion and abduction was significantly greater in the exercise group immediately following the intervention, as was change in shoulder abductor strength. In conclusion, a supervised exercise program provided some, albeit small, additional benefit at 6 months post-intervention to women who had been provided with written information and reminders to use their arm. Both the groups reported few impairments including swelling immediately following the intervention and 6 months post-intervention. Notably, resistance training in the post-operative period did not precipitate lymphedema.