Physiotherapy and Cancer

Contrarily to what one might think, several patients suffer more from the side-effects of cancer treatments than the cancer itself. For instance, chemotherapy often weakens the patient’s resistence, immunotherapy can lead to muscular atrophy, radiation therapy occasionally causes reduced joint flexibility, not to mention surgical treatments, which often involve the amputation of a muscle or bone group. Physiotherapy can help improve the quality of life of patients who have undergone these types of treatments.

The physiotherapist tailors a rehabilitation program based on the patient’s needs. Consequently, the therapist may choose to focus on a number of avenues: pain relief mechanisms; strengthening, release, and muscular relaxation exercises; mobilization techniques; aerobics (cardiovascular); grip and dexterity retraining; or balance and coordination training. The goal is to help the patient rebuild endurance, flexibility, strength, and power.

Improving cardiovascular endurance helps improve the patient’s breathing, pain tolerance, digestion, etc. Improving the patient’s joint and muscle flexibility helps minimize adhesions caused by post-surgery scarring, reduces pain, and improves joint mobility. Increasing muscular strength results in improved posture and bone mass, which help the patient resume regular activities. At the same time, this helps boost the patient’s morale and energy.

It is not uncommon for women with breast cancer who have undergone lumpectomies to be referred for physiotherapy to restore shoulder mobility. Following this type of surgery, there is a loss of range in arm and shoulder movements, which, in turn, causes pain and a loss of mobility. The physiotherapist deals with these issues using scar and shoulder mobilization techniques in combination with an exercise program (muscle strengthening, release, and relaxation) and pain control measures.

Physiotherapy can also be effective in the reduction and control of lymphedema caused by the treatment of breast and other types of cancer. This is accomplished by the application of compression bandages, manual lymphatic drainage techniques, and decongestive exercises. These treatments help prevent ankylosis, increase joint mobility, and decrease oedema and infections.