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  • Writer's pictureMiracle Rehab Clinic

The Role of Physical Therapy in Cancer Recovery

Finished cancer treatment but still feeling weakness and fatigue? You're not alone in this struggle. Research indicates that a staggering 80% of individuals experience pain, fatigue, and difficulties with daily activities post-cancer treatment. It's a challenge that about 1 in 3 cancer survivors report facing.

Physical issues like pain and reduced mobility are also common during treatment. These affect 30-50% of patients

Physical therapy is not just a general treatment, it's a specialized approach that can significantly improve your post-cancer life. It's designed to strengthen your body, enhance your movement, and effectively manage pain, making it an essential part of your recovery journey.

Let's discuss how in detail!

What is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is a personalized treatment that focuses on improving movement, strength, and overall well-being. Physical therapists, as healthcare professionals, are trained to assist individuals in regaining their abilities after injury, illness, or surgery.

They utilize a range of techniques, including exercises, stretches, and manual therapy, to help patients achieve their unique goals.

Benefits of Physical Therapy for Cancer Patients

Cancer treatment can leave you feeling weak, achy, and tired. It can also make daily tasks like getting dressed or climbing stairs difficult. Physical therapy can help you overcome these challenges and improve your quality of life. Here are some key benefits:

Physical therapy can help you manage pain

Physical therapists use massage therapy or specific exercises to reduce pain and stiffness caused by treatment or surgery.

It helps to improve strength and mobility

Physical therapy helps you regain muscle strength and improve your flexibility through exercises tailored to your needs. This makes everyday activities easier and helps prevent falls.

Physical therapy reduces fatigue

Physical therapy can help manage fatigue, a common side effect of cancer treatment. Specific exercises can improve your energy levels and help you feel less tired throughout the day.

It aids in better balance and coordination

Cancer treatment can affect your balance and coordination. Physical therapists can design exercises to improve these skills, reducing your risk of falls and injuries.

It boosts emotional well-being

Physical activity can improve your mood and decrease stress. Physical therapy can help you stay active, which can positively impact your overall well-being.

Overall, physical therapy supports recovery and helps you regain your independence.

Common Physical Therapy Techniques for Cancer Patients

Physical therapists use a variety of techniques to help cancer patients regain strength and mobility and manage pain. Here are some common approaches, along with some exercises you might encounter:

Therapeutic exercises

These are exercises specifically designed to address your needs. They focus on improving strength, flexibility, balance, and range of motion. These exercises include the following:

  • Lifting light weights.

  • Squats with resistance bands or lunges.

  • Gentle stretches that target tight muscles. 

  • Standing on one leg, walking heel-toe, or using a balance ball to improve stability.

Manual therapy

This involves hands-on techniques like massage, joint mobilization, and stretching to improve movement and reduce pain.

Aerobic conditioning

Physical therapists may recommend exercises like:

  • Walking

  • Swimming

  • Biking

  • Dancing 

Balance and coordination training

Exercises that challenge your balance and coordination can help prevent falls and improve your overall stability. Examples include:

  • Heel-to-toe walking: Take small steps, placing your heel in front of your toes with each step.

  • Single leg stance: Stand on one leg for a set amount of time, then switch legs.

  • Catching a ball: Start with a large, soft ball and toss it back and forth between your hands.

Lymphedema management

If you experience swelling caused by cancer treatment (lymphedema), physical therapists can teach you specific techniques like massage and bandaging to manage this issue.

Your physical therapist will educate you on exercises you can do at home to maintain your progress and manage your condition effectively. They will provide instructions and guidance on how to perform these exercises safely.

Physical Therapy for Different Types of Cancer

While physical therapy offers significant benefits for all cancer patients, the specific exercises and techniques used can vary depending on the type of cancer and the treatment received. Here are different types of cancer where physical therapy can help:

Breast cancer

Over 40% of women experience shoulder stiffness and limitations in arm movement following radiation treatment for breast cancer. Physical therapy can address these issues, along with lymphedema (swelling in the arm). Exercises can focus on improving range of motion (reaching for your toes or overhead), strengthening chest and shoulder muscles (light weight lifting or resistance bands), and managing swelling through massage and bandaging techniques.

Prostate cancer

Surgery or radiation for prostate cancer can affect bladder control and sexual function. Studies show that up to 70% of men experience urinary incontinence after prostate cancer treatment. Physical therapists can teach exercises to improve pelvic floor strength, which can significantly help with this issue. They can also provide guidance on exercises to improve sexual health. It's important to note that a physical therapist specializing in oncology should be consulted for these concerns.

Colon cancer

Surgery for colon cancer can sometimes lead to bowel dysfunction. Physical therapists can help with exercises to improve bowel control and manage constipation.

Head and neck cancer

Surgery and radiation for head and neck cancer can affect swallowing, speech, and facial movement. Physical therapists can work with you on exercises to improve swallowing function (specific swallowing techniques), speech clarity (exercises to strengthen the muscles involved in speech), and facial expressions (facial massage and exercises).

Each type of cancer requires specific physical therapy techniques tailored to the unique challenges faced by patients.

Physical Therapy During Different Stages of Cancer Treatment

Physical therapy can be beneficial throughout your entire cancer journey, from diagnosis to recovery. 

Before your treatment, a physical therapist can assess your baseline strength, flexibility, and balance. This information helps them create a personalized plan to prepare your body for the demands of treatment and improve your recovery afterwards.

During treatment, cancer can cause fatigue, pain, and difficulty with daily activities. Physical therapy can help manage these issues, allowing you to maintain your strength and independence. For example, exercises can help with:

  • Reduced arm or leg swelling after surgery.

  • Maintaining range of motion if surgery affects your joints.

  • Managing pain caused by treatment or surgery.

After treatment, the focus of physical therapy shifts to helping you regain strength, mobility, and endurance. This allows you to return to your daily activities and improve your overall quality of life. Exercises can target:

  • Regaining strength and flexibility lost due to treatment.

  • Improving balance and coordination to reduce fall risk.

  • Managing fatigue and increasing your energy levels.

Physical therapy adapts to meet the needs of patients at each stage, promoting better outcomes and enhancing overall well-being.

What to Expect During Physical Therapy for Cancer Recovery at Miracle Rehab Clinic

At Miracle Rehab Clinic, we understand the unique challenges faced by cancer survivors during recovery. Our PTs are experienced in helping patients regain strength and mobility and improve their quality of life after cancer treatment. 

We will thoroughly assess your individual needs and limitations. This includes evaluating your strength, flexibility, range of motion, balance, and any pain you might be experiencing. We'll also discuss your recovery goals to create a treatment plan that aligns with your aspirations.

Based on your evaluation, our team will create a personalized treatment plan specifically designed for you. This plan will incorporate a variety of evidence-based exercises and techniques tailored to your unique situation.

During each session, you'll work closely with a dedicated physical therapist who will guide you through your exercises. Our therapists utilize a hands-on approach, incorporating manual therapy techniques like massage or joint mobilization to improve your comfort and range of motion.

The number of therapy sessions you'll need will depend on your individual progress and goals. Our team will work closely with you to monitor your progress and adjust your treatment plan as needed. We're committed to helping you achieve optimal recovery and get back to living a fulfilling life after cancer treatment.

Final Thoughts

Cancer treatment can leave you feeling physically challenged, but you don't have to face recovery alone. Physical therapy offers powerful tools to help you regain strength and mobility and manage pain. Through personalized exercises and techniques, physical therapists can significantly improve your quality of life after cancer treatment.

At Miracle Rehab Clinic, our oncology-trained physical therapists are dedicated to helping cancer survivors achieve optimal recovery. We understand your unique needs and create personalized treatment plans to help you on your journey back to health. Contact us now to get started!

Frequently Asked Questions

How can physical therapy help manage the side effects of cancer treatment?

Physical therapy helps manage the side effects of cancer treatment by reducing pain, improving strength and mobility, and addressing specific issues like lymphedema. Techniques such as manual therapy, exercise programs, and balance training are used to help patients maintain their physical function and improve their quality of life. Therapists create personalized plans to target each patient's unique challenges, ensuring a comprehensive approach to managing the physical impacts of cancer treatment.

How often should cancer patients attend physical therapy sessions?

The frequency of physical therapy sessions for cancer patients depends on individual needs. Typically, patients may start with two to three sessions per week. As their condition progresses, the frequency may decrease to once a week or biweekly. The therapist will adjust the schedule based on the patient's response to therapy, and recovery goals. Regular attendance and adherence to home exercise programs are crucial for optimal results.

Can physical therapy be integrated with other cancer treatments?

Yes, physical therapy can be integrated with other cancer treatments. It complements these treatments by addressing their physical side effects. This allows patients to maintain strength, mobility, and overall function. Therapists work with oncologists and other healthcare providers to create a cohesive care plan. This multidisciplinary approach ensures that physical therapy supports and enhances patients' recovery processes.

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