PAIN+ CPN

Doctor, I have persistent arm pain after my breast cancer treatment. Will myofascial techniques help to treat my pain?

Myofascial therapy may provide temporary pain relief for many women with persistent arm pain after breast cancer treatment.

What is the evidence?

Researchers looked at patients receiving myofascial therapy (a special form of massage) and compared them to patients receiving a simple light massage. They measured the intensity and quantity of arm pain and the number of patients with pain at 3, 6, and 12 months. They found that:

  • Patients in the myofascial therapy group had significantly less pain at 3 months
  • There was no difference in pain between the two groups at 6 or 12 months
  • There was no difference in the number of patients with some level of pain between the two groups at any time point
  • This was a small study (50 patients)

What kind of study was this?

This was a randomized controlled trial (RCT). In an RCT, patients are randomly assigned to receive the treatment under study (here myofascial therapy) or a comparator treatment (ideally usual care).

Who participated in the study? This study included 50 women who had been treated for a primary breast cancer and had more than 3 months of pain in their arm, up to the armpit.

How was the study done? The study compared myofascial therapy with simple light massage, given for 3 months. All patients also received a standard 12 week physiotherapy program. Outcomes were measured after therapy (at 12 weeks), at 6 months and 12 months.

Myofascial therapy

vs

Simple light massage

Myofascial therapy consisted of manual myofascial release techniques on myofascial trigger points and myofascial adhesions on the upper body. Patients received one 30-minute session per week for 12 weeks.

Physical therapy included passive shoulder mobilization, stretching of pectoral muscles, scar tissue massage, and exercise therapy.


Simple light massage consisted of static bilateral hand placements. Therapists placed their hands up and down the upper body and arm with minimal pressure.

Physical therapy included passive shoulder mobilization, stretching of pectoral muscles, scar tissue massage, and exercise therapy.

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Why was this research done?

Many women will experience long-term arm pain after treatment for breast cancer. Myofascial release techniques have been shown to improve pain in patients with chronic shoulder pain, fibromyalgia, and ankle pain. This study looked at whether adding myofascial therapy to regular physiotherapy improved long-term arm pain after breast cancer treatment. 

This Evidence Summary is based on the following article:

De Groef A, Van Kampen M, Vervloesem N, et al. Effect of myofascial techniques for treatment of persistent arm pain after breast cancer treatment: randomized controlled trial. Clin Rehabil. 2018 Apr;32(4):451-461. doi: 10.1177/0269215517730863. Epub 2017 Sep 15. PubMed

Published: Friday, December 21, 2018