Physical Therapy After Lung Cancer Surgery: It Isn’t Just About Exercise!

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After lung cancer surgery you may experience some difficulty with doing the things you are used to doing.  You may experience decreased endurance even during simple activities such as walking or shopping or doing the stairs.  It may hurt to cough, making it difficult to clear your lungs of congestion.  You may need some direction as to how to get back to your usual activities. 

Physical therapists experienced in working with cancer patients can help you in many ways.  Cancer rehab services really are not just about exercise.

Benefits of Physical Therapy after Lung Cancer Surgery

  • Improved ability to do daily activities
  • Fewer complications from lung cancer surgery
  • Improved pulmonary (lung) function
  • Improved quality of life
  • Fewer episodes of shortness of breath
  • Improved strength

What To Expect

Following surgery, your physical therapist will perform a comprehensive evaluation focused on your lung capacity, your current level of endurance, and muscle strength testing.  Based on the information gathered, your therapist will create a rehabilitation plan with attainable goals scaled just for you.

The initial phase of rehab includes education about your diagnosis, nutritional information, breathing techniques, and energy conservation.  The next phase includes a comprehensive exercise plan of stretching, aerobic exercise and strength training.

Breathing Techniques

Correct breathing techniques are essential to increasing the strength of the muscles involved in breathing.  Since breathing is an activity we don’t think about, you will never see someone headed off to the gym saying, “Today I’m going to give my accessory muscles a work out.”  Yet after lung cancer surgery it is the intercostal muscles of the ribs and  the diaphragm that have weakened and are responsible for the shortness of breath many patients feel.  During this phase of your rehab you will be taught breathing techniques such as “pursed lip breathing” and “diaphragmatic breathing.”

Tips for Energy Conservation

Hand in glove with difficulty breathing comes decreased energy.  Your physical therapist will provide you with suggestions to conserve your energy, which includes prioritizing activities and making sure the most important tasks get done first.  Plan your activities a week in advance so that you spread out your activities throughout the week.

Supplemental Oxygen

Sometimes patients’ oxygen levels fall too low and supplemental oxygen may be required for a short time after surgery.  Your therapist is trained to monitor your oxygen levels and will be able to advise you if your oxygen is too low.  Physical therapists are able to help provide education for the proper use of oxygen as well.

Exercise Therapy

The mainstay of your post-surgical lung cancer rehab is exercise therapy designed to improve endurance and increase lung capacity.  Your progress will be supervised and documented as you steadily regain your strength and endurance.  You will be provided with exercises you can do at home.

The key areas of exercise therapy for post-surgical lung cancer rehab include: stretching, aerobic exercise, and strength training. Stretching restores mobility in the chest and back which allows freer movement of the lungs and diaphragm. Aerobic exercise includes cardiopulmonary training on a stationary bicycle or treadmill.  Even if you’ve never exercise before, rehab can help you with a tailored program to improve your function.  Your program starts where YOU are in your condition and the goal is getting you back to doing the things you love to -or need to- do.  Cancer rehab can help you get back to living.

Please call us if you have questions or want to schedule an appointment. Our cancer rehab clinic phone is (703) 789-0367.