Many cancer patients have not heard of physical therapy as an option to help them recover during and after their cancer treatment. Research has shown that between 65% and 90% of cancer patients and survivors experience physical limitations that can interfere with their quality of life. However only 5% are referred to physical therapy to address these issues caused by cancer treatment. Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery can cause many unwanted side effects. These include:
- Musculoskeletal pain
- General deconditioning
- Loss of motion or mobility
- Decreased strength
- Lymphedema or swelling
- Scar adhesions
- Low back pain
- Shoulder/neck pain after breast cancer treatment
- Balance problems
Survivors may think these symptoms are part of their “new normal” after cancer treatment, but it is not acceptable to live with these symptoms. Indy Women PT want to help survivors return to their previous level of activities and lead a full life without restrictions.
Breast Cancer is the most common malignancy in women, accounting for 23% of cancers in women worldwide. The effects of surgery, chemo and radiation can leave you feeling fatigued, weak and in pain. It is not uncommon for some patients to experience discomfort or pain along the surgical site, the shoulder itself or any surrounding muscles after surgery. These symptoms can be present weeks or even months after your procedure. This can lead to shoulder pain, neck pain, further loss of motion and decreased abdominal strength.
Specific symptoms after breast cancer surgery may include:
- A feeling of something pulling or “tearing” along the surgical scar area when using the arm
- Pain in the shoulder when performing overhead activities
- Pain or discomfort along the scar when wearing certain clothing such as a bra, camisole, etc.
- Persistent weakness in the arm, shoulder or abdomen/core region especially after having a latissimus or rectus abdominus flap procedure
- Upper or lower back pain
- Swelling in the arm or body in which articles of clothing may feel tighter on the affected side versus the other
Ovarian, Uterine, and Colon/Rectal cancer treatments can also can also have the same unwanted general side effects. Due to the location and treatment of these type cancers. More specific side effects can include:
- Bowel/Bladder Incontinence
- Nerve damage in the spine or pelvis. Symptoms can include pain, numbness, tingling, weakness or hypersensitivity in the hips, groin or legs
Head and Neck cancers can also be treated to help with managing those specific side effects such as swelling, headaches, limited jaw movement, shoulder dysfunction, scar adhesions, and neck pain.
Benefits of Physical Therapy include:
- Improved endurance and cardiovascular conditioning
- Increased muscular strength
- Improve joint range of motion
- Decrease pain
- Lessen fatigue
- Assist with surgical recovery
- Manage lymphedema
- Improve balance and coordination
- Improve quality of life
Indy Women PT will do an extensive evaluation and talk to you about your particular goals. We will set up a plan together in order for you to return to those activities you love to do in a safe way to avoid any potential injury or swelling.
Lymphedema can be a side effect of cancer treatment due to a disruption in the lymphatic system. It can be caused by the tumor or cancer itself, or a result of surgery and/or radiation. The lymphatic system’s job is to transport toxins or waste products to be broken down and eliminated from the body. When the lymph vessels are unable to transport this fluid, it accumulates, resulting in chronic swelling. Lymphedema as a result of cancer treatments is called secondary lymphedema.
Some people can have lymphedema without any history of cancer. This is called primary lymphedema. This can begin at a very young age, or develop later in life for no apparent reason. This is caused more from a malformation of the lymphatic system itself and not damage from cancer treatments. It is unknown what exactly causes primary lymphedema, but it can sometimes be linked with obesity, or some genetic history.
Lymphedema symptoms include:
- Swelling in the arms, legs, hands, fingers, upper back, chest or face
- Swelling can sometimes leave an indentation, as when your finger pushes into the skin and leaves a mark
- Clothes or jewelry such as a ring may feel tight
- The arm or leg may feel “heavy”
- Tightness, decreased motion or flexibility in the affected area
- If there is an infection the skin may appear red or blotchy, warm to the touch, painful and you may have a fever. If this happens you will want to call your doctor immediately.
- Manual lymph drainage-This is a light massage that helps move the lymphatic fluid toward functioning lymph nodes, to help with eliminating the excess fluid which is causing the swelling
- Bandaging-This involves the effected arm or leg to be wrapped in a layer of bandages to promote decrease in the swelling. This will need to stay on continuous even at night to be the most effective. We can teach family members how to bandage to give you a little more freedom in between therapy sessions
- Compression garment-Once the swelling is down and unable to reduce any further, a compression garment for the arm or leg will need to be ordered to fit your particular size. If a garment appears to be a challenge to take on and off, there are other options that can work just as well
- Exercise-Appropriate exercise can help the muscular system to move the lymphatic fluid away from the affected arm or leg. It is recommended to always wear you sleeve or hose when working out to prevent swelling. Although there is no specific research that states a weight limit, general precaution is given in regards to lifting too much weight or performing aggressive sports
Since unfortunately there is no cure for lymphedema, the goal of therapy will be to reduce the swelling and maintain the reduction. Indy Women PT can treat lymphedema and also give you the tools and education needed to help manage it on your own once physical therapy is done.