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The role of physiotherapy in cancer

Cancer patients will all meet oncologists, radiologists, nurses and surgeons during their treatment. Rightly so, as these healthcare professionals are essential to the treatment and management of cancer. However, cancer patients should also consider the role of physiotherapy in their cancer recovery.

There is not a single cancer patient whose physical or mental condition, stamina or mood could not be improved by physical therapy, or complete physiotherapy. Especially if the physiotherapy is done professionally, after consulting with a knowledgeable doctor. Despite this, very few cancer patients are directed to physiotherapists or masseurs, and will ever realize the potential benefits of movement therapy in the rehabilitation process.

Physiotherapy can shorten the period of convalescence after surgery, may help avoiding complications, meanwhile exercise and massages can effectively reduce stress as well. But what can help you, can harm you as well! Therefore, both the professionals and the method of physical therapy must be chosen very carefully.

Always choose carefully

Cancer patients should never choose a therapeutic masseur or physiotherapist through an advertisement, or just simply make a reservation in a spa, hotel or beauty salon while on vacation. These places are generally prepared ”only for guests” and not for “patients”, and for cancer patients that is not enough.

The rehabilitation issues of cancer patients are much more complex, as in the case of, for example, the loss of function resulting from an accident, serious illness or surgery. In these cases the aim of physiotherapy would be to recover the most function possible. In case of cancer, the physical condition of the patient can change continuously, and additional treatments have to adapt to these changing circumstances as well.

While therapeutic massage only requires the patient's passive presence, physiotherapy requires active participation and therefore has a much greater significance. All those involved should learn appropriate exercises and practice them as advised by the doctors and professional physiotherapists.

Learning, consistently practicing and mastering these personalized exercises can accelerate the post-operative convalescence, can improve the patients’ endurance and stamina, can help to avoid surgical complications and ease pain. However the consultation with a specialist should never be bypassed, because an exercises that benefits one patient, might be proven harmful for another.  

To prevent and to ease the problems

People with cancer may present a wide range of physical problems and needs, including respiratory, neurological, lymphatic, orthopedic, musculoskeletal issues and pain, which may all benefit from physiotherapeutic intervention.

Medical studies have indicated a relationship between higher physical activity levels and lower mortality in cancer survivors. Professionally controlled physical activity interventions in cancer survivors, during and after cancer treatments, has been proven to have a significant effect. A large effect was shown on upper and lower body strength, and moderate effects on fatigue and breast cancer-specific concerns.

In the best cases, cancer patients are advised to consult a physiotherapist even before their operation. In this case, the physiotherapist can talk them through what can be expected right after the operation and during other cancer treatments, and what they can do to prevent possible complications. Patients who are able to prepare in advance and learn the most important practices, exercises and movements are recovering and regaining their independence a lot sooner, while facing fewer complications.

Furthermore, appropriate physiotherapy does not only improve the patients’ physical condition, but also help prevent thrombosis, can contribute to the improvement of vital functions, such as circulation or respiration, and can relieve neuropathic pain as well.

The good news

The good news is that it is never too late to seek physiotherapeutic help for cancer recovery. As a cancer survivor, if you realize that you are having trouble accomplishing daily tasks or functioning at your prior level of independence, seek out a professional physiotherapist, a rehabilitation expert and start your journey to the full recovery.