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How PT Can Benefit Cancer Patients

It’s probably not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about cancer recovery, but physical therapy is becoming an increasingly important and beneficial part of cancer rehabilitation. The American Cancer Society advises both current cancer patients and cancer survivors to perform physical activities to help improve their ability to perform daily activities and increase their risk of survival.

Physical therapists can create an individualized treatment plan for patients at all stages of cancer recovery. Specifically as it relates to breast cancer, physical therapy can help improve recovery and minimize side effects.

Breast cancer is challenging and can be physically draining even after surgery. Usually, patients will struggle to regain a full range of motion in the shoulder joint and will experience pain in the arm, shoulder, and chest. Often times, it can inhibit your ability to do daily activities like getting dressed and showering, and even taking deep breaths. These simple exercises can be beneficial to your recovery, and will likely be a part of your individualized treatment plan from your therapist.

At first, simple range-of-motion activities and stretches will be most beneficial to your recovery. Keeping your arm elevated above your heart while laying can be beneficial in the reduction of swelling in the affected area. Opening and closing your hand, and bending and straightening your elbow can also help reduce swelling. Additionally, deep breathing exercises can help stretch your chest and keep your lungs active early in recovery.

A few days or weeks after surgery, pain and swelling should subside, and new exercises will be introduced to enhance motion and reduce pain. The first is called elbow winging, where you lie on your back with your fingers locked behind your head and move your elbows down toward the floor. This exercise helps increase shoulder and chest movement. Don’t get discouraged, it should take weeks to be able to move your shoulder all the way down.

You can also try the shoulder stretch. For this exercise, you will stand about ten inches from the wall with your hands starting on the wall at shoulder level. Use your fingers to climb your hands and arms up the wall and back down again. This exercise is primarily used to help increase the range of motion in the shoulder.

Another similar exercise involves sitting in a chair close to a table with both palms on the table. You will then use a similar method to crawl the affected arm as far as you can across the table to stretch your shoulder blade.

Your doctor and physical therapist will consult to form the treatment plan that is best for you and your individual needs, so some of these exercises may not be included, while there may be a variety of different exercises that you use throughout your treatment.

At ACCESS PT, we are dedicated to helping our patients feel the best they can. If you need advice or assistance in getting back to feeling your best, contact one of our 50+ locations. We’d love to help!