arm pain after breast surgery and radiation

I am trying to find out what is the cause of pain on my arm. I had a mastectomy with lymph node clearance 9 months ago followed by chemotherapy and radiation. I now have lymphoedema in my arm. I finished radiation 4 weeks ago. The pain in my arm is getting worse with last night a shooting pain in my thumb joint. I needed to take pain killers. After radiation my chest and arm pit are very tight. I have read the pamphliets given to me about radiation side effects and it does mention that 1% pf patients develop pain in their arm. Has anyone else experienced this pain and will it go away? Or does lymphoedema cause pain? I also have lymphoedema in my right leg which developed 12 years after groin node clearance and I don't have this type of pain in my leg. (I suspect the delayed leg lympoedema was triggered as result of chemo for my breast cancer.

8 Replies

  • Hi I had a WLE & 4 LNs removed followed by Rads. Rads completed Feb 2014. Since then I've had 2-3 bouts of Cellulitis infection which were painful. I saw Professor Mortimer at The Royal Marsden in Sutton who diagnosed Cellulitis, and Lymphoedema in WLE op area. I'm taking Penicillin for a year to keep Cellulitis at bay. I did not get cording which can cause pain and tightness down the arm. Please contact your GP, Breast Care Nurse and let them know the extent of the pain you are in. JMP.

  • Hi there, I honestly think 4 weeks is very soon to tell - your tendons, muscles, nerves, are still adjusting to the treatment. I had arm pain after radiotherapy (and lymphoedema too) and was referred pretty quickly to the lymphoedema service in the Cancer Centre - the physios there were very helpful in sorting out what was treatment effect and what was caused by the lymphoedema. They also treated me for cording which was causing some of the pain. Do you know if you have cording? I'd try to get a referral to physio/lymphoedema service if you can. And from what I remember I was chewing painkillers for the duration of the cording physio - my arm seemed to "seize" and was very painful when I tried to move it. If you can, get into a pool for half an hour - that helps too. You don't need to be able to swim - stand in shoulder high water, and make gentle breast stroke movements with your arms. The compression will help get the lymph flowing and the water supports your muscles. I seem to remember feeling like a bit of an eejit walking in the water "pretending" to swim but it did help! Best of luck

  • Hi I had Breast cancer surgery in 2009 followed by chemotherapy, radiotherapy and then reconstructive surgery. I have lymphoedema in my left arm due to lymph node removal and frequently suffer from pain in my left arm which I am told is due to the lymphoedema. The main advice I can give you is to wear your support sleeve most of the time as I do. Hope you find this helps, otherwise I just take Paracetamol. It is just something I have learned to cope with but I did have to retire early from my job as a Medical Secretary due to the problems with my arm. Hope this helps. Regards Anne

  • I still get slight pain/ache after 4 years but it's very mild. Try doing the exercises they give you it will help. X

  • Thank you all for your responses. I have been doing exercises and stretching but this causes more pain at night. Saw my surgeon and physio and both said the pain was probably worsened by radiation. The surgion prescribed panadene forte and lyrica. Later in the day i had physio who faound some cording near my elbo and armpit. She worked on these and she was happy that they were softening. Last night I didn't need to take painkillers but this morning my arm is so heavy and weak I can't even type with it. I can't give up work. i hate lymphedema!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I am just wondering if you are wearing a compression sleeve and if so if it is fitting you correctly (though I would think your physio should check this?) I used to get very bad thumb 'web' pain with old style Mediven gauntlet sleeves, but their new 'Harmony' sleeves are fabulous, much softer fabric and different seaming over the thumb area. I also occasionally had thumb web issues with a Sigvaris glove, but nowhere near the same extent.

    It's a struggle to get lymphoedema to a manageable living condition but massage, skincare, compression and exercise all do their bit. But it takes time after all the toxic shock to your system caused by the mastectomy, chem and rad, or as they used to say 'slash, burn and poison'.

    I echo the suggestion to get back in touch with breast care nurse but also contact LSN to get more info about MLD specialists and a host of other great stuff. The info/support line is 020 7351 4480 and the web address is

    Good luck with getting an end to the pain

  • Thank you. Yes, I am wearing a correctly fitted glove. Surgeon and physio told me I am probably still recovering from radiation which has caused cording. Nothing was in the radaition manual about this side effect! Phsio is now working on sftening/getting rid of cording.

  • Cording is very painfully but the exercise that they give you is very good the heavy feeling under your arm will take time no heavy lifting mine comes even now if I do to much am nearly 5 years from op also got lymphodema you just learn how to manage it that's the best you can do best wishes x

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