Tensegrity Massage to Relieve Pain After Mastectomy

Tensegrity Massage To Relieve Pain After MastectomyIn my previous blogs I have described how women can feel if their mastectomy scar is tight or adhered to other structures. The main problem for women with tight mastectomy scars is that the tightness of the scar tissue will cause tightness within other areas of the body. For example tightness at the scar, skin or muscles of the left chest (after mastectomy) area can cause the right hip and the neck to be painful and tight when turning your head. The pain or tightness may not be noticeable every minute of the day but may be occasional ( eg 1-2 times per week) or may present as episodes of pain (for a couple of weeks).

A new word, tensegrity, has been adopted to describe how all the tissues in the body are connected. Tom Myers, from Anatomy Trains has been an advocate of the need to understand tensegrity and he often refers to the need to look beyond where the pain is to determine the actual structures that may be responsible for tightness and pain felt by the person. By understanding tensegrity, a skilled therapist can then treat the location on the body that is causing pain.

In the case of mastectomy scar tightness, the women I see mostly report feeling pain at the neck or behind or between the shoulder blades. In most cases these women do not report that they feel pain at the mastectomy scar area. This lack of pain at the mastectomy scar is difficult to explain, however, women do need to realize that if they feel less sensation or numbness at the chest, then this is an indication that the tissues here are very tight.

Finally, let’s talk about treatment options! A case study presented in Association of Rehabilitation Nurses in 2014 evaluated massage treatments based on tensegrity. They presented a single case study where the woman was experiencing high levels of pain after mastectomy (and removal of muscle). The treatments involved massage to regulate muscle tone and scar tightness where the surgery was performed and provided education regarding the atypical (unexpected) need for this type of treatment.

The massage technique involved gradual working on the tissues at the scar area and then moved to the nearby muscles. The pain experience of the woman, in the case study, were measured before and immediately after the treatment session. In a very respected pain questionnaire (Mc Gill) the woman reported an improvement from 7 points before treatment to 1 point immediately after treatment and then 0 (zero) at 1 month after the last procedure. The 10 point pain rating scale (VAS) also showed a reduction from 5 (before therapy) to 2 (after first treatment) to 0 (zero) at the one month review.

This research is very promising, however is only a record of one person’s response to the treatment protocol. But I must tell you that this is the type of treatment that I use in my clinic every day and I see the same results for many women.

What can you do to see if the pain you feel in other places is due to the principle of tensegrity and tightness at the mastectomy scar? I would suggest that you see your treating GP and/or breast surgeon to have them confirm that there is mastectomy scar tissue. If this is confirmed and there are no other medical reasons for your pain, then find a therapist who can help you.

You want to find a therapist who understands the complications that can occur after breast cancer, can assess mastectomy scar tissue, can treat the scar tissue and can measure improvements for you.
Tensegrity is a thing! and is one explanation as to why Yoga makes you feel better all over.


Denise Stewart Breast Cancer Occupational TherapistDenise Stewart, founder of Breast and Shoulder Rehabilitation and an Occupational Therapist trained in Australia at University of Queensland. Her career started at a major public hospital, providing rehabilitation to people with very serious and chronic illness and injuries.

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  1. Ann Angel says:

    Denise, I assume that you have used laser also? In my personal experience (as a mastectomy and recon patient) massage and laser on the origin and insertion of the pec muscles made a dramatic difference. I was surprised when I mentioned this to a few surgeons. The comment was “I didnt think about that”


  2. Doreen makes a great point. The therapist or massage person does need to know about breast cancer and lymphoedema – these therapists may be hard to find- but worth the effort.


  3. Therapeutic massage can help many patients in their recovery process. However, if a patient has had lymph nodes removed or damaged from radiation, certain types of massage can be the catalyst for the onset of lymphedema. Patients as well as massage practitioners need to know what types of massage therapies are acceptable for patients at risk for lymphedema.



  1. […] Having a skilled therapist who understands this problem will be able to treat this condition. A tensegrity massage, is a new method to relive the pain after a […]


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