Importance of Physical Therapy in Cancer Recovery

In the road toward cancer recovery, physical therapy is a healthcare field that — in most cases — never crosses one’s path. Oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, and nurses are the medical practitioners of choice during early cancer treatment. Rightly so, as they are essential to the treatment and management of malignant diseases. However, one should also consider the role of physical therapy in cancer recovery.

What is Physical Therapy For?

Cancer treatment leaves many patients weak, exhausted, and with a compromised immune system. Even getting out of bed can be a daunting and challenging task, and exercising seems impossible. It is during these trying situations where a physical therapist is needed.

What is the Role of Physical Therapy in Cancer Recovery?

Despite advancements in cancer treatment, the patients who receive them still experience extensive physical limitations during and/or after treatment. Physical therapy can correct cancer-related impairments, including but not limited to:

  • Pain: Several relief strategies can address the severity and recurrence of pain after cancer treatment. To be specific, soft tissue mobilization, therapeutic stretching, massage, modalities, and strengthening are physical therapy strategies that may help.
  • CRF: Assisted strength training, aerobic exercises, and functional management training are associated with minimized effects of cancer-related fatigue. These strategies prove effective during and after medical cancer treatments.
  • Lymphedema: Range of motion exercises, manual lymph drainage, and lymphatic bandaging are effective lymphedema management techniques for addressing swelling that occurs in one of your arms or legs.
  • Peripheral neuropathy: Sometimes, cancer survivors experience peripheral neuropathy or an abnormal nerve function that causes pain, tingling, and temporary paralysis. Physical therapy plays an important role in restoring nerve function and compensating for any nerve dysfunction.
  • Genitourinary complications: For women undergoing treatment for ovarian cancers and men for prostate cancers, sexual dysfunction and incontinence are common. An experienced and qualified physical therapist can help reclaim the strength of the pelvic floor to reduce pain related to sexual function and improve urinary continence.

Case Study

In a 2015 study published in the Physical Therapy Journal, researchers concluded that physical therapy is more commonly sought-after by men and women surviving breast and genitourinary cancers. For two years, the researchers examined data from 418 patients.

The results showed that the most prevalent impairments were (1) loss of strength, and (2) soft tissue dysfunction. Specifically, lymphedema was the issue for most people with breast cancer, and urinary incontinence was the leading complaint of patients with genitourinary cancers. The researchers also noted that high fatigue levels and pain were widespread in individuals who had undergone radiation therapy.

This study supports the notion that physical therapy is vital for cancer survivors. And yet, the study also revealed that a large percentage of survivors do not seek rehabilitation services, even though they would find it beneficial to their recovery.

Is It Too Late to Try Physical Therapy?

It is never too late to seek rehabilitation services for cancer recovery. If you are having trouble accomplishing daily tasks or functioning at your pre-cancer independence, work with a physical therapist now to regain your vitality.

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