Lung Cancer Recovery: It Isn’t Just about Exercise!

Senior man recovering from lung cancer breathes deeply

When you are in lung cancer recovery, 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 for Lung Cancer Recovery

  • 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 after Lung Cancer Surgery

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 lung cancer recovery 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 your lung cancer recovery because they increase 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 lung cancer recovery 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.

Boost Your Energy with Supplemental Oxygen

Sometimes patients’ oxygen levels fall too low and supplemental oxygen may be required for a short time during lung cancer recovery.  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 recovery 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 recovery 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 about lung cancer recovery or want to schedule an appointment. Our cancer rehab clinic phone is (703) 789-0367.