The Benefits of Physical Therapy for Cancer Patients: Enhancing Recovery and Quality of Life

cancer physical therapy patient and physiotherapist

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, both physically and emotionally. While medical treatments like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery are vital in fighting cancer, there is another powerful ally that can significantly contribute to a patient's recovery: physical therapy. Physical therapy can play a beneficial role in the treatment and management of cancer. As a cancer rehabilitation physical therapist, I have seen firsthand the tremendous benefits that exercise can provide to cancer patients. While cancer treatment can be grueling and exhausting, exercise can actually help to alleviate some of the symptoms and side effects associated with cancer and its treatment.  Physical therapy plays a crucial role in helping cancer patients regain strength, manage treatment-related side effects, and improve their overall quality of life. In this blog post, we will explore the numerous benefits of physical therapy for cancer patients.

Benefits of Physical Therapy for Cancer Patients

  1. Restores Physical Function and Independence: cancer treatments can take a toll on the body, leading to muscle weakness, fatigue, and decreased mobility. Physical therapy focuses on restoring physical function through various exercises and interventions. Physical therapists work closely with patients to design individualized exercise programs that target specific areas of concern, such as regaining strength, improving range of motion, and enhancing balance. By gradually rebuilding strength and endurance, physical therapy helps patients regain independence in their daily activities.
  2. Helps Manage Treatment Side Effects: chemotherapy and radiation therapy often result in side effects such as pain, lymphedema, neuropathy, and joint stiffness. Physical therapy techniques, such as manual therapy, therapeutic exercises, and modalities like heat or cold therapy, can effectively alleviate these symptoms. Lymphatic drainage techniques used by physical therapists can reduce swelling and improve circulation, thus helping to manage lymphedema. Pain management strategies, including gentle exercises and stretches, can help reduce pain levels and improve overall comfort.
  3. Enhances Energy and Reducing Fatigue: fatigue is a common and distressing (and often debilitating) side effect of cancer and its treatments.  While it may sound counterintuitive, engaging in appropriate physical activity under the guidance of a physical therapist can counteract fatigue and increase energy levels.  Completing carefully planned exercises, physical therapy helps cancer patients build stamina, reduce feelings of exhaustion, and improve their overall strength and endurance. Physical therapists also teach energy conservation techniques, allowing patients to perform activities efficiently while minimizing fatigue.
  4. Improves Emotional Well-being: cancer diagnosis and treatment can have a significant impact on a patient's emotional well-being. Physical therapy offers not only physical but also emotional support. Engaging in regular exercise releases endorphins, which are known to improve mood and reduce anxiety and depression. Additionally, physical therapists provide a supportive environment and work closely with patients, offering encouragement, motivation, and a listening ear. This personalized care can greatly enhance a patient's overall emotional well-being and quality of life.
  5. Promotes Long-Term Survivorship: physical therapy is not just about short-term recovery; it also plays a crucial role in promoting long-term survivorship. By focusing on strength training, flexibility exercises, and cardiovascular conditioning, physical therapy helps cancer survivors maintain their physical function, prevent deconditioning, and reduce the risk of future health complications. Physical therapists also provide guidance on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including appropriate exercise routines and strategies for ongoing self-care.

Why is it important to incorporate physical activity into your cancer treatment plan?

Cancer and its treatment can take a toll on a patient's physical and mental function. Exercise can help to improve strength, balance, and overall mobility. This can help to improve a patient's ability to perform activities of daily living, reduce falls and other accidents, and increase overall quality of life.  Some additional benefits of physical therapy for cancer patients include:

  • Can Improve mood: Cancer can be an incredibly stressful and emotional experience, but exercise can help to improve mood and reduce anxiety and depression. Exercise releases endorphins, which are the body's natural feel-good chemicals, and can help to boost mood and reduce stress levels.
  • Reduces risk of recurrence: Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence in some cases. While it's not a guarantee, exercise can help to improve overall health and reduce the risk of other chronic diseases, which can in turn reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.
  • Improves immune function: Cancer and its treatment can weaken the immune system, but exercise can help to improve immune function and reduce the risk of infections and other complications. Exercise has been shown to increase the production of natural killer cells, which are an important part of the immune system.
  • Aids in Weight management: Many cancer patients experience weight gain or loss during treatment, which can affect their overall health and well-being. Exercise can help to maintain a healthy weight and prevent further weight gain, reducing the risk of complications related to obesity.

Exercise Should be a Component of Cancer Care

It's important to note that exercise should be tailored to each individual patient's needs and abilities. Some cancer patients may not be able to engage in high-intensity exercise, thus it's important to work with a physical therapist highly trained in working with cancer patients to develop an exercise plan that is safe and effective.

Physical therapy is a valuable component of comprehensive cancer care and is now widely prescribed for cancer patients and survivors. If you or a loved one is undergoing cancer treatment, we urge you to strongly consider incorporating physical therapy into your care plan. Physical therapy can empower you to regain control of your body and improve your overall quality of life throughout your cancer journey.

To learn more about the physical therapy/cancer rehabilitation program at Oncology Rehab and Wellness, visit our page here: