How Physical Therapy Helps in Cancer Rehabilitation

Physical therapy is a practice of medicine that treats disease and injury with specialized exercise and movements rather than with drugs and/or surgery. The extent of diseases and injuries that can benefit from physical therapy is incredible; from tennis elbow to a traumatic brain injury, physical therapy can provide patients with hands-on, personalized care and education to help them recover.

Some people might be surprised to learn that physical therapy can even help cancer patients to recover with personalized rehabilitation plans. Optivus physical therapist Ashlee Harriman took an advanced course on physical therapy for cancer patients, and shared her insights on the importance of including physical therapy rehabilitation for cancer patients below.

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Effects of Cancer & Treatments on the Body

The majority of cancer survivors experience decreased quality of life due to the intensity of treatments, undergoing multiple treatment approaches, and decreased physical functioning. For those of us who have been through or have witnessed a loved one suffer from cancer and its treatments, we know the difficulty of maintaining activity during treatments.

What is Cancer Rehabilitation

When we see a patient who is undergoing treatment for or recovering from cancer, we focus on the following:

  • Cancer survivor rehabilitation should focus on aspects of function that impact quality of life and are likely to change with medical intervention
  • Some benefits of cancer rehabilitation include but are not limited to the following:
    • Cardiovascular endurance
    • Strengthening
    • Mitigation of pain
    • Decreasing fall risk by improving balance
    • Reduce the effects of cancer related fatigue caused by chemotherapy and/or radiation

How a Physical Therapist Can Help

You might wonder how adding physical therapy to your treatment plan can help you in your cancer battle, and you will likely be surprised by the many benefits you receive from the personalized care of a Physical Therapist:

  • Physical therapy can assist a patient with an individualized exercise program, while at the same time monitoring symptoms including cancer related fatigue
  • A Physical Therapist can help manage cancer related fatigue by pacing of the patient’s activity, decreasing pain, and addressing deconditioning with strength training and aerobic activity
    • Benefits of Aerobic Activity for survivors who have undergone chemotherapy:
      • Decrease fatigue levels
      • Improved Aerobic capacity
      • Functional activity level
      • Improved energy levels
    • Benefits of strength training in cancer survivors:
      • Muscle function
      • Body composition
      • Immune support
      • Endocrine function
      • Cardiopulmonary function
    • Initiating an exercise program soon after diagnosis can help to disrupt the fatigue cycle and encourage exercise as part of a daily routine
    • A physical therapist can also provide counseling on modifications to be made at home or in the community to assist in optimal physical functioning

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Important to Remember

We want to leave you with these final thoughts that are important to remember throughout the process of cancer rehabilitation:

  • Our body’s are adaptive and will work to heal themselves, but any help along the way will facilitate optimal healing
  • Healing and time go hand in hand, and physical therapy is designed to help facilitate safe recovery
  • Take things slow and don’t rush the process. Physical activity is good to encourage optimal recovery but you also don’t want to increase impairments either. A physical therapist will assist with advice and resources.
  • A higher level of activity can be reached with proper guidance
  • Setbacks can be normal and advice from a healthcare provider can help you through that time

If you are interested in learning more about adding physical therapy to your cancer treatment plan, contact us today to schedule an appointment!

Note from our contributor: This information is from an educational program I completed on cancer rehabilitation in 2016. It is from resources from the program and my own knowledge and expertise as a Doctor of Physical Therapy.

2019-08-14T18:40:04+00:00