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  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

The Importance of Physical Therapy During and After Cancer Treatment

By Taylor McKnight

Physical therapy is often the last thing on people’s minds when they receive a cancer diagnosis. However, it is an essential part of your treatment plan that enhances your quality of life and allows you to return to regular activities more quickly. Most hospitals have specially trained physical therapists for cancer patients who can help you throughout your journey.

Continue reading to learn about the treatment-related challenges physical therapy can address, what kinds of rehabilitation are available, and other long-term considerations for those who have received cancer treatment.

Why Is Physical Therapy Important During and After Cancer Treatment?

Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation can impact your well-being in ways you may not have considered. Many cancer treatments can cause muscle weakness, increased difficulty in balancing, and a smaller range of motion. Physical therapy is essential to your recovery process and can help you restore your strength and physical function. Your physical therapist can work with you to create a plan of care that aligns with your healing process and individual goals.

Cancer treatment affects not only your physical health but your mental well-being, too. Many cancer survivors experience depression and anxiety even after they have completed treatment. Exercise is a powerful way to combat the side effects of treatment and positively affect your mental health. In addition, some research has shown that regular physical activity and exercise may even lower your risk of cancer returning.

What Kind of Rehabilitations Are Available Alongside Cancer Care?

There are several types of rehabilitation you can receive alongside cancer care. Most plans will incorporate some physical rehabilitation as well as occupational therapy, language pathology, and vocational rehabilitation services. Each component is essential to help improve your quality of life so you can return to the activities you enjoy most.

Physical therapy: Your physical therapist can help you recover your strength, endurance, flexibility, and mobility once you complete treatment. Many also offer treatment for pain management, while some specialize in managing conditions like lymphedema.

Occupational therapy: Occupational therapists play an essential role by helping you resume your usual daily activities. These activities may include bathing, dressing, and returning to work. They devote considerable time and effort toward improving arm strength and function as well as range of motion.

Speech and language pathology: Some cancer survivors struggle with language comprehension and expression. Others may have difficulty swallowing food or drinks. A speech and language pathologist can assist with communication, cognitive skills, and swallowing disorders.

Vocational rehabilitation specialist: Many cancer survivors eventually return to work. Vocational rehabilitation specialists evaluate when the time is right to work again and how to accomplish this. They may recommend special equipment or guide those who must find a new line of work.

While this is not an exhaustive list of rehabilitation services, they are the ones that most cancer survivors utilize. Each service is pivotal in helping you improve your quality of life and physical well-being. Adhering to their guidance and attending each appointment can make a huge difference in how you feel after receiving cancer treatment.

Other Things To Consider After Cancer Treatment

Many survivors feel unsettled and worry about an uncertain future after cancer. Some feel anxious that the cancer may return and stress they are not doing enough to remain vigilant about warning signs. In addition, many still experience negative symptoms associated with their treatment even after it ends. Commonly, many survivors continue to experience insomnia, fatigue, memory loss, pain, neuropathy, and emotional distress.

It's essential to recognize that these fears and worries are all valid. Sharing these concerns with a loved one or joining a support group can also bring relief. Support is invaluable at this stage of recovery, and you may even seek professional help to address your concerns. In addition, if you are struggling with your diet, a registered dietician can help you meet the nutritional goals necessary for your best outcome.

Remember, everyone’s cancer experience is unique, but leaning on other survivors and loved ones for help is instrumental in maintaining your mental health after treatment. Take it one day at a time, and be kind to yourself throughout the process. Keep up with your regular screening exams, and always speak up if something feels wrong. No one knows your body better than you, and finding the right doctor to listen to your health concerns may save your life.

Written by Taylor McKnight, Author for FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Center

Note: This article is designed to provide general information and not replace professional medical advice. Always discuss your options with your healthcare provider.

Learn More:

On the Podcast: Breast Cancer Conversations

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