Rehabilitation programs increasingly focus on improving functional capacity and quality of life for breast cancer survivors, as a substantial number experience pain and limited range of motion in their shoulder and upper arms for months — and in some cases, years — after undergoing surgical treatment. Researchers sought to determine whether a Pilates exercise program would benefit these patients. Their findings were published in Oncology Nursing Forum.

They recruited 44 breast cancer survivors to participate in a prospective longitudinal study to assess the benefits of a Pilates exercise program on pain, functional capacity, and quality of life. The participants attended 60-minute Pilates sessions at a physiotherapy clinic in Brazil twice a week for 12 weeks. The intervention targeted the trunk, upper and lower limbs, and abdomen.

The participants were evaluated at the beginning, at the program midpoint, and again at the end. Evaluation tools for pain included the visual analog scale (VAS) and the Shoulder Pain and Disability Index (SPADI); evaluation tools for functional capacity included the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder, and Hand (DASH) Questionnaire.

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The intervention significantly improved pain and quality of life for the participants. In addition, significant improvement in shoulder function and functional capacity, as measured using the SPADI and DASH tools, respectively, was noted following the Pilates exercise program. “The effect size was strong based on participants’ scores on the SPADI and moderate based on DASH scores,” reported the researchers.

With more women surviving breast cancer, these results might inspire oncology nurses to continue to explore ways to meet the needs of their breast cancer patients, especially as they navigate complications during the late postoperative period. “Pilates exercises are a promising method of physical rehabilitation for patients with breast cancer that can help to improve their postoperative outcomes, self sufficiency and overall well-being,” the researchers concluded.

The study was limited by its longitudinal design. Additionally, participants weren’t blinded to the researchers, which could have introduced bias.


Ferreira de Rezende L, Thesolim BL, Dias de Souza S, Leme Nagib AB, Villas Boas VF. The effects of a Pilates exercise program on pain, functional capacity, and quality of life in breast cancer survivors one year postsurgery. Oncol Nurs Forum. 2022;49(2):125-131. doi:10.1188/22.ONF.125-131