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Acupuncture in the rehabilitation of women after breast cancer surgery – a case series
  1. Michele Alem, physical therapist acupuncture specialist,
  2. Maria Salete Costa Gurgel, breast surgeon
  1. Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics School of Medicine Universidade Estadual de Campinas UNICAMP, Brazil
  1. salete{at}


Objective To evaluate the effect of acupuncture on rehabilitation of motor function, reduction in lymphoedema and improvement in perceived heaviness and tightness in the arms of women who had undergone breast cancer surgery.

Subjects and Methods Twenty nine women who had had mastectomy or segmentectomy with axillary dissection, presenting with lymphoedema and/or a decrease in movement amplitude of the upper limb ipsilateral to surgery were studied. The patients underwent 24 acupuncture sessions once a week from February to December 2004. The movement amplitude of shoulder flexion and abduction and circumferential measurements of the arm, forearm and wrist were evaluated before and after one, three and six months of treatment. Statistical analysis was performed by Friedman’s test.

Results Significant improvements in range of movement of shoulder flexion and abduction (P<0.001), degree of lymphoedema (P=0.016), and sense of heaviness and tightening (P<0.001) in the affected limb after six months of therapy were observed. For circumferential measurements of the arm, forearm and wrist, no significant improvement between the different periods of treatment was observed.

Conclusions Acupuncture in rehabilitation after breast cancer surgery was shown to be associated with improvements in movement amplitude of the shoulder, symptoms of heaviness and tightness in the arm, and the degree of lymphoedema. However, controlled trials should be performed to ascertain whether the results were due to the natural history of the complaint or the acupuncture treatment.

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