After breast cancer, people need to do safe and effective arm stretches for years after their surgery and radiotherapy.
I have written about my concerns about long hard stretches and the risk of microtear injuries in the chest and shoulder previously. These injuries can result in persistent pain in the arm or trunk after stretching or shoulder pain with a quick arm stretch. The pain will be on the same side as their breast cancer surgery and radiotherapy - so this adds to the worry about cancer recurrence.
Finally, I've decided to offer a new solution for breast cancer survivors. The solution is an alternative exercise program for the arm and shoulder muscles. And the solution is an easy-to-use option for home: audio and video instruction. People can click on a link to their favorite stretch method from this new exercise resource and then follow my instructions.
This exercise resource will suit people who need a new approach to stretching and health professionals who have trained their breast cancer patients in shoulder PIR exercises (aka MET or contract/ relax methods) for the shoulder muscles. This new resource is designed to make it easier for people at home to engage in the exercise- as it's always easier to follow instructions as compared to making up your own routine.
It's all about our human nature foibles!
People go to exercise classes, like Yoga, Zumba, or even hoola- hooping, and enjoy just following the trainer's instructions.
Following verbal instructions is so much easier- there is no energy lost in deciding what to do next.
As compared to trying a similar program at home without instructions - it takes thought, planning and worry- "am I doing this right?"
I realized that I was not fully supporting my patients to make arm stretching part of their self-care routine. I would train the person in PIR/ contract-relax shoulder exercises in their treatment session and then follow up with a sheet of paper with the exercises on. I thought my job was done.
But with honest feedback from my patients- I found that they didn't get to the exercises regularly enough at home.
Then I thought about it:
These exercises are different from what people know about stretches.
These exercises can involve 3-4 different specific moves
How do you read the sheet of exercises while trying to do them?
Chemo brain doesn't help
There are too many barriers to starting and completing shoulder exercises at home.
So this shoulder exercise resource has these resources:
Training using kitchen scales to learn the right amount of arm tension required for the exercises
Audio Instructions for contract-relax exercises for both arms (17 mins)
Use of visual imagery to get the arm position just right to contract/relax different portions of the muscle.
Separate training audio for when the person only wants to spend 8 mins safely stretching pectorals and shoulder muscles on one side.
Video instructions to stretch shoulder muscles, using the contract-relax method, at the shoulder blade.
Partner training for using gentle trigger point manual release for the back of shoulder muscle (infraspinatus)
Instructions so that people can measure any immediate benefits from their shoulder exercise - which will be seen as achieving a greater range of movement.
People will be instructed to feel skin tension and muscle tension - so stretching is respectful of these new limitations and that they may benefit from seeking conservative scar treatment.
For Health Professionals
This is one of the techniques I teach health professionals in the self-paced or online live breast cancer rehab training sessions. This contract-relax method for shoulder muscles has been a standard treatment and self-care method in my practice over the years. I've found this approach to be gentle and effective with my breast cancer patients.
I know that it takes time to create new resources for your patients and that time is precious. That's why I'm making this resource available to you for your patients.
You can refer their patients to purchase this resource here. I've made it a low-cost and once-off payment. Your patients can choose to access the entire online resource, or they can download single training guides onto their favorite devices.
Once people have paid for this resource they will automatically receive a PDF with the program link and password. Once the password has been added to the device- it won't be needed to open the exercise resource next time.
Alternatively, if your clinic wants to create your training resource- then copy some of my ideas! This is a much-needed resource, as women will need to do safe and effective arm stretches for years after their surgery and radiotherapy.