The Link Between Rehab and Mental Health for Breast Cancer Patients
Marian Barnick

Marian Barnick

Registered Kinesiologist and Human Movement Specialist


It’s can be extremely frustrating when things just don’t go the way you want them to. 

It’s especially true with things we’re trying to do for ourselves.  Like trying to learn a new computer program, making dinner with a new recipe, or fixing something ‘on your own’.  And it’s absolutely discouraging when it doesn’t work. 

Overtime, this frustration and discouragement can lead to feeling, well…overwhelmed, upset, and like giving up.

From a personal level, I truly understand these feelings.

I’ve had five shoulder surgeries over the course of 10 years.  I know the amount of work that goes into rehab and the fear of not knowing if you’re going to be able to do what you use to.  The road toward recovery’s been paved with frustration, tears, fears….thinking you’re making headway and then…another surgery, another 3 months, 6 months of rehab – it can be discouraging.

It’s been really powerful for me to see things from the other side as well.  I’ve worked with patients for over 25 years and I can recognize the look of despair when they walk into my clinic.  It’s not just the physical, but the emotional overwhelm that comes with not knowing if you’re going to get where you really want to be.  

How you feel is directly related to how well you recover.

I don’t think anyone would argue with that statement.  We know when we feel good it’s our mind and our body.  The same hold true for the reverse.  In fact, it’s been the source of studies within the cancer community and beyond. 

There’s a link between mental health and recovery.

A study involving four Canadian Oncology Clinics looked at the emotional health and quality of life of  breast cancer patients over a five year period after surgery.   

Movement has a Significant Association with Mood

After evaluating over 400 breast cancer patients this study found that negative feelings experienced by breast cancer patients were “significantly associated” with restriction in shoulder movement and shoulder pain.


So I did a little more digging into the research (if you follow me at all you know I LOVE research!).

Other studies found that the two most important predictors for breast cancer patients returning to their active lifestyle and improving their quality of life after surgery are movement and pain. 

Let me say it again – MOVEMENT is IMPORTANT!

Breast cancer patients who have pain and restriction in shoulder movement aren’t able to get back to their active lifestyle and of course, this is directly related to their quality of life.  It also directly relates to mood – causing emotional distress that can lead to depression. 

MAT – Movement Action Tip

Ya gotta get moving! 

SO if you’re having problems with your shoulders, PLEASE DO NOT sit back, pretend that things are ok, and give up on your goals.  I know you’ve been through a lot.  And you’re drained – physically AND emotionally – from the fight through cancer.

So take a break if you need to.  But get back up, take a deep breath (or three, or four), and take an inventory.  Look closely, write it down, and really see what’s standing in your way of getting back to activities that you love.  Facing the challenge and working through movement therapy isn’t easy.  But it’s rewarding – both physically AND emotionally.

So where do you start?

You can do your own assessment – and I’ll teach you how.  You need to know what’s moving well and what’s giving you trouble so you can make a plan.  Download my Free Mobility Self Assessment and get started!

And if you’re having problems, sign up for a consultation with me – it’s FREE too. 

 No excuses – let’s get moving!



Boquiren, VM, Hack, TF, et all, A longitudinal analysis of chronic arm morbidity following breast cancer surgery, Breast Cancer Res Treat. June, 2016.

Miedema, B., et al. Do Breast Cancer Survivors’ Post-surgery difficulties with recreational activities persist over time? J Cancer Surviv. December, 2011.

Miedema, B., et al. Predicting Recreational Difficulties and Decreased Leisure Activities in women 6-12 months Post Breast Cancer Surgery. J Cancer Surviv. December, 2008.

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