October is National Physical Therapy Month and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Physical therapy may not be the first healthcare field that comes to mind when someone is undergoing cancer treatment, but physical therapists can play an integral role in promoting a speedy recovery and in assisting a return to previous levels of activity following surgery and radiation/chemotherapy treatments.
Overhead reaching and elevating the arms forward, back and sideways are often affected as one recovers from lymph node resection, chest wall radiation, or breast reconstruction. Early intervention with manual therapy, such as scar tissue and trigger point release, passive range of motion, and joint mobilization help to reduce pain and tightness, and can improve upper extremity mobility and function. Desensitization techniques, such as vibration or rubbing with a textured cloth can help to treat nerve hypersensitivity. Physical therapy can address additional side effects, such as fatigue, bone and joint pain, osteoporosis, headaches and weakness. Along with building strength and increasing endurance with an individualized program prescribed by a physical therapist, socialization and the release of endorphins that occur with exercise can also help to improve the psychological aspect associated with the diagnosis of cancer.
It’s never too late to begin rehab services for cancer recovery. If you have difficulty performing daily tasks, seek out a physical therapist to help restore healthy movement, comfort and function.