The Physical Therapy Approach to Oncology Patients


The Physical Therapy Approach to Oncology Patients


At one time, patients being treated for or recovering from cancer were advised to abstain from physical activity.  Medical professionals are now arguing just the opposite—and have the research to prove it!  According to recent studies, too much rest can lead to loss of body function, muscle weakness, and reduced range of motion.  During and after oncological treatments, patients often experience physical limitations and discomfort, including but not limited to exhaustion, weakness, deconditioning, nerve damage, weight variation, pain, and genitourinary complications, such as incontinence or sexual dysfunction.  This is where your local physical therapists can help…

According to a study by the American College of Sports Medicine, oncological rehabilitation is safe (and possible), resulting in improved physical function and quality of life, helping patients maintain independence and tolerate treatment.  Throughout the course of physical rehabilitation, the physical therapist assesses the patient’s fitness level and safely progresses an individualized treatment plan—very similar to typical physical therapy procedure.  However, during the course of oncological rehabilitation, the physical therapist also monitors for any developing adverse conditions, while also applying functional training and strengthening techniques designed to reduce fatigue, improve physical function, and increase muscle strength, joint flexibility, and general conditioning.

As with any diagnoses, there are certain factors to consider when prescribing the patient’s course of treatment.  For example, if the patient presents pain with movement, rapid heart rate, or shortness of breath, they may not be a good candidate for oncological rehabilitation.  Similarly, certain characteristics of the patient’s diagnoses could act as a red flag against physical activity, such as the type and stage of cancer, type of cancer treatment, or the patient’s stamina, strength, and fitness level.  Even after determining the patient safe to move forward with a physical activity plan, studies show that the patient is best suited in the capable hands of a licensed physical therapist.

Benefits of Pre-Operative Rehabilitation

Think PT; Think ELITE

Benefits of Pre-Operative Rehabilitation

While physical rehabilitation post-surgery seems to be standard operating procedure, did you know pre-operative rehabilitation is just as important?  In fact, implementing a rehabilitative program prior to surgery can actually cut down on recovery time, complications, and even healthcare costs!

Following surgical procedures, patients often experience a decline in strength and function, as well as increased inflammation, pain, and swelling.  Keeping this in mind, over a clinically suggested 6 week time frame prior to surgery, a physical therapist will assess the patient for muscle and joint strength, ability to move and perform day-to-day tasks, and degree of independence; all of which are crucial in creating the patient’s individualized pre-surgical rehabilitation plan.  From there, the goals of this plan are simple:

  • Mentally prepare patient for surgery
  • Reduce pain and inflammation
  • Restore range of motion
  • Improve muscular control of the affected area
  • Normalize movement patterns prior to your surgery
  • Improve overall well-being and fitness
  • Gain a good understanding of the exercises that you will perform immediately after surgery

By addressing key muscles, joints, and tissue anticipated to be affected by the procedure ahead of time, physical therapists are able to enhance post-operative outcomes.  According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), participating in just 1-2 pre-operative rehabilitative sessions can reduce postoperative care by 29%, which translates into healthcare savings of more than $1000 per individual.*

*study based on patients with total knee or hip replacement