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Pilates and Myofascial Release for Breast Cancer Rehabilitation

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Pilates and MFR for Breast Cancer

Pilates and Myofascial Release for Breast Cancer Rehabilitation

Many of us know someone who is living with breast cancer, as it is the one of the most common cancers for women worldwide. Following diagnosis of breast cancer, many individuals who have undergone invasive surgery experience postoperative issues including pain, decreased joint mobility, decreased strength, decreased tissue integrity, improper lymphatic drainage, and deprivation of overall energy. This post will briefly discuss the potential benefits from both Pilates and Myofascial Release techniques as individual and potentially combined entities that show promise in improving postoperative impairments for these women.

Pilates for Breast Cancer Patients

In a recent systematic review, “Pilates in Breast Cancer,” the importance of the lifestyle before and after surgery shines positive light on Pilates-based exercises to effectively treat women with a breast cancer diagnosis.  A total of five studies observed the rehabilitation of women who practiced Pilates-based exercises, home-based exercises, and no exercises. The exciting results demonstrate that Pilates groups experienced significant improvements in comparison to home-based exercises (which were more effective than no-exercise-program patients). The women performed Pilates exercises 3 times per week for 8-12 weeks for a total of 50-60 minutes and were of the age range of 40-60. In a separate study, patients also saw an improvement in lymphatic drainage which was correlated with the movement and breathing techniques utilized during Pilates exercises.

Why Pilates versus Home-Based Exercises alone?

The benefits of home exercise programs are essential for women with breast cancer. These exercises help to improve factors that help maintain and improve goals that are emphasized during rehabilitation. However, monitored exercise by a Pilates instructor or Physical Therapist has major advantages and was a factor that correlated with better improvements in range of motion, pain, fatigue, and motivation to perform exercises when accompanied by a professional.


Myofascial Release for Breast Cancer Patients

An additional outcome of breast cancer treatment includes tissues losing their shearing and gliding ability (the ability to move in multiple directions). This means that the joints of the body are limited in their range because tissues are restricted, which can lead to upper limb dysfunction. Typical restrictive areas that are identified include surgical scarring, axillary tightness (underneath the armpit), lateral chest wall, and posterior tightness over the rotator cuff musculature. Axillary Web Syndrome is becoming increasingly recognized as a sequela of breast cancer that occurs after lymphatic node dissection. This includes band- or cord-like structures that are felt in the axilla that lead to sudden loss of shoulder movement. Studies have demonstrated Myofascial Release as a soft tissue technique that has major implications for improving shoulder dysfunction and preventing post-surgery pain. Pilates In The Grove has several staff members who are well-trained with years of experience in Myofascial Release Treatment. Although at least several sessions are typically necessary to release all restricted tissues, it truly amazing and worth the pain relief and freedom that your body and joints will have following this manual technique.

Encouraging Hope for Cancer Survivors

Both Pilates Rehabilitation and Myofascial Release for Breast Cancer Patients are areas that will benefit from increased research and implementation. It is clear through current research that specific Pilates-based exercise and gentle Myofascial Release techniques are important for improving the overall quality of life for women who have undergone intense surgeries and recovery. These tools are excellent methods of self-care that can improve the way you feel, function and move!

Zaida Perez, PT, DPT


Espindula, RC., Nadas, GB., Rosa,MID., Foster, C., Araujo, FC., Grande AJ. Pilates for breast cancer: A systematic review and meta-analysis. (2017). Revista da Associcao Medica Brasileira.63 (11), 1006-1012.

Fourie, W.J., Robb ,K.A. Physiotherapy management of axillary web syndrome following breast cancer treatment: discussing the use of soft tissue techniques. (2009). Physiotherapy, 95(4), 314-320.

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