Ask A Pro

Q

Is it common to experience weakness in the shoulder/arm on the side of the mastectomy? I'm nearly 2 years past surgery. Recently, I have pain in my shoulder, especially during the night when it's more immobile. It especially hurts to move it and reach forward or across. Do you think there is any relationship between the surgery and this discomfort?

 
A

It is not uncommon for women to experience numbness, pain, and weakness in the affected hand, arm, and shoulder in the immediate period following a mastectomy or axillary dissection (underarm lymph node removal). Most of these symptoms are related to the injury (stretching or cutting) of sensory nerves (the nerves responsible for feeling things). It is uncommon for any motor nerves (the nerves that tell muscles to move) to be injured by the surgery. That means that the muscles are usually ready to get back to work after the surgery. But your ability to move your arm and your shoulder may be limited by things other than strength - like pain, swelling, stiffness, and altered sensation in the armpit, shoulder, and upper arm area. If you are experiencing these symptoms, a physical therapist can help relieve discomfort and regain range of motion. Then your muscles can get working again. You must then exercise regularly thereafter to maintain your range of motion and strength.

Anytime you have discomfort in an area, you tend not to use it because it hurts. Lack of use can then add to the overall problem. So, before you suffer any more than you have, take care of yourself and get some help with this as soon as you can.

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