Physical Therapy for Cancer Rehabilitation
Many cancer patients have not heard of physical therapy as an option to help them recover during and after their cancer treatment. Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery can cause many unwanted side effects.
Side effects can include the following:
Loss of motion or mobility
Lymphedema or swelling
Low back pain
Shoulder and/or neck pain after breast cancer treatment
Survivors may think these symptoms are part of their “new normal” after cancer treatment, but it is not acceptable to live with these symptoms. Indy Women PT wants to help survivors return to their previous level of activities and lead a full life without restrictions.
After Breast Cancer Surgery
Breast Cancer is the most common malignancy in women. The effects of surgery, chemo and radiation can leave you feeling fatigued, weak and in pain. It is not uncommon for some patients to experience discomfort or pain along the surgical site, the shoulder itself or any surrounding muscles after surgery. These symptoms can be present weeks or even months after your procedure. This can lead to shoulder pain, neck pain, further loss of motion and decreased abdominal strength.
Specific symptoms after breast cancer surgery may include the following:
A feeling of something pulling or “tearing” along the surgical scar area when using the arm
Swelling in the arm or body in which articles of clothing may feel tighter on the affected side versus the other
Pain or discomfort along the scar when wearing certain clothing such as a bra, camisole, etc.
Persistent weakness in the arm, shoulder or abdomen/core region especially after having a latissimus or rectus abdominus flap procedure
Upper or lower back pain
Pain in the shoulder when performing overhead activities
Ovarian, uterine, and colon/rectal cancer treatments
Ovarian, uterine, and colon/rectal cancer treatments can also have the same unwanted general side effects. Due to the location and treatment of these types of cancers.
More specific side effects can include:
Vaginal narrowing or dryness which can lead to painful intercourse
Nerve damage in the spine or pelvis. Symptoms can include pain, numbness, tingling, weakness or hypersensitivity in the hips, groin or legs
Benefits of Physical Therapy
Improved endurance and cardiovascular conditioning
Increased muscular strength
Improved joint range of motion
Assist with surgical recovery
Improve balance and coordination
Improve quality of life
Lymphedema can be a side effect of cancer treatment due to a disruption in the lymphatic system. It can be caused by the tumor or cancer itself, or a result of surgery and/or radiation.
The lymphatic system’s job is to transport toxins or waste products to be broken down and eliminated from the body. When the lymph vessels are unable to transport this fluid, it accumulates, resulting in chronic swelling. Lymphedema as a result of cancer treatments is called secondary lymphedema.
Some people can have lymphedema without any history of cancer. This is called primary lymphedema. This can begin at a very young age, or develop later in life for no apparent reason. This is caused more from a malformation of the lymphatic system itself and not damage from cancer treatments. It is unknown what exactly causes primary lymphedema, but it can sometimes be linked with obesity, or some genetic history.
- Swelling in the arms, legs, hands, fingers, upper back, chest or face
- Swelling can sometimes leave an indentation, as when your finger pushes into the skin and leaves a mark
- Clothes or jewelry such as a ring may feel tight
- The arm or leg may feel “heavy”
- Tightness, decreased motion or flexibility in the affected area
- If there is an infection the skin may appear red or blotchy, warm to the touch, painful and you may have a fever. If this happens you will want to call your doctor immediately.
At this time we are only accepting patients with lymphedema as a maintenance type program. If you are wanting to have monthly or so checkups which include manual lymph drainage massage, optional bandaging, regular arm or leg measurements recorded and guidance with exercises or compression garments advice we can help.
Manual lymph drainage
This is a light massage that helps move the lymphatic fluid toward functioning lymph nodes, to help with eliminating the excess fluid which is causing the swelling
This involves the affected arm or leg to be wrapped in a layer of bandages to promote decrease in the swelling. This will need to stay on continuous even at night to be the most effective. We can teach family members how to bandage to give you a little more freedom in between therapy sessions
Once the swelling is down and unable to reduce any further, a compression garment for the arm or leg will need to be ordered to fit your particular size. If a garment appears to be a challenge to take on and off, there are other options that can work just as well.
Appropriate exercise can help the muscular system to move the lymphatic fluid away from the affected arm or leg. It is recommended to always wear your sleeve or hose when working out to prevent swelling. Although there is no specific research that states a weight limit, general precaution is given in regards to lifting too much weight or performing aggressive sports
Since unfortunately there is no cure for lymphedema, the goal of therapy will be to reduce the swelling and maintain the reduction. Indy Women PT can treat lymphedema and also give you the tools and education needed to help manage it on your own once physical therapy is done.
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“No one recommended physical therapy after my breast cancer treatments. I didn’t want to bother my doctor about the pain along my mastectomy scar and in my shoulder. After I was finally sent to therapy, I regained motion in my shoulder and my pain improved enough so I could return to playing golf!”
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