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Mastectomy is a surgery used to remove breast tissues from a breast. It is the surgical removal of one or both breasts, either partially or completely. It is a way to treat breast cancer.

Post-mastectomy pain syndrome (PMPS) is the pain following a mastectomy. Most women experience some level of pain in the days and weeks following their mastectomy. Some continue to experience pain and discomfort for months or even years after their surgery. The pain that continues for more than a few months and impacts quality of life after undergoing mastectomy is known as post-mastectomy pain syndrome.

Symptoms of post-mastectomy pain syndrome

Symptoms of post-mastectomy pain syndrome include:

Persistent or intermittent pain in your;

  • Chest
  • Armpit
  • Arm
  • Shoulder

Apart from experiencing pain, you may also experience;

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Severe itching
  • Burning sensations
  • Increased sensitivity to pain

Cause of post-mastectomy pain syndrome

The exact cause of post-mastectomy pain syndrome is not clear. However, the most likely cause is due to some nerve damage in the armpit and chest that occurred during the mastectomy surgery.

Studies have shown that between 20% and 30% of women that undergo mastectomy develop symptoms of PMPS after the surgery.

PMPS is more likely to occur in women that;

  • Had a full axillary lymph node dissection
  • Had radiation treatment
  • Had chemotherapy
  • Had hormone therapy

Treatment of post-mastectomy pain syndrome

You should know that PMPS doesn’t mean that cancer has returned or that something went wrong during surgery. If you are experiencing continuous pain, you should see your doctor.

Your doctor will examine the surgical area to know what could be the cause of your pain.

Treatment options include:

  • Exercises

If you are developing limitations in movements in your arm and shoulder motion, a series of daily range-of-motion exercises can help to improve flexibility and reduce shoulder pain. Your doctor will refer you to a physical therapist that will guide you through the most effective flexibility exercises that will help you.

  • Topical pain relievers

If your pain is due to skin inflammation, applying topical pain relievers in form of lotions, creams, or gels can help relieve the pain.

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers

If your pain is caused by nerve damage, taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen can help relieve pain.

  • Prescription pain relievers

If over-the-counter pain relievers don’t work, your doctor may prescribe stronger prescription pain medications such as opioids. Opioids shouldn’t be taken for a long period of time, as it could become addictive.

  • Stellate ganglion block

A stellate ganglion block is a local anesthetic that is injected into the nerve tissue in the neck to numb the pain. Stellate ganglion block reduces the need for analgesics and it helps to improve range of motion in the shoulder. You may need to have series of stellate ganglion block injections to successfully stop the pain.

  • Massage

Gently massaging your chest in the scar area can help soften adhesions that can cause pain.

  • Transcutaneous nerve stimulation

This therapy uses low electrical current to provide pain relief. The low current stimulates the nerves to provide pain relief.

Other complementary therapies that may help relieve pain include:

  • Acupressure
  • Acupuncture
  • Relaxing

FAQs

How long is pain after mastectomy?

Normal pain after undergoing mastectomy can last for a few days to a few weeks until you recover. However, post-mastectomy pain can last for months or even years.

How do you manage pain after a mastectomy?

You can manage pain after mastectomy by taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. If these are not effective, you can take prescription medications such as opioids. Applying topical anesthetic capsaicin creams or gels to the pain area can help relieve pain. A ganglion block injection can also help to stop the pain.

What does nerve pain feel like after mastectomy?

Symptoms of nerve pain include a shooting or pricking pain in the chest, armpit, and/or shoulder. Most women with PMPS say that their pain is not severe.

How long does it take to completely heal from a mastectomy?

It can take 4-6 weeks to completely recover after undergoing a mastectomy. You’re advised to avoid repetitive motions in the affected arms and avoid lifting heavy objects for about 6 months after recovery.

Can you sleep on your side after mastectomy?

After undergoing a mastectomy, it is recommended to sleep on your back for the first 2 weeks. This is because the surgical area is still very tender and any little pressure on it can affect your recovery. You are allowed to sleep on your side after two weeks of your surgery. You must wait for at least 4 weeks or until you have fully recovered before you can sleep on your stomach. Most surgeons recommend sleeping on your back until you have fully recovered.

When can I lift my arms after mastectomy?

You may need to wait for 4-6 weeks or until you recover before you can lift your arms. Your surgeon will inform you when you can lift your arms depending on your recovery rate. Do not lift heavy objects even after you recover until you’re cleared by your surgeon to do so.

What is the fastest way to recover from a mastectomy?

The fastest way to recover from a mastectomy is by following the instructions of your surgeon. These include taking your medications, excising your shoulders and arms, have quality time to relax, and eat the right diets.

Can you move your arms after a mastectomy?

Yes. You can move your arms and also engage in some simple flexibility exercises that improve the range of motion in your arms and shoulder.

How do you reduce fluid after mastectomy?

Lymphedema is a condition in which lymphatic fluid fails to drain properly. It is a side effect of mastectomy. It can lead to swelling in your chest or arms.

You can reduce fluid buildup by engaging in special exercises and massage that can help the flow of lymph fluid. Using compression therapy can also help to move fluid.

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