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Physical Therapy for Cancer Patients

Published on Aug 03, 2022 and last reviewed on Apr 26, 2023   -  6 min read


Physical activity is essential to your overall health and quality of life. This article explains the importance of physical therapy for cancer patients.

Physical Therapy for Cancer Patients

What Is Cancer?

Cancer is a disease that results from uncontrolled proliferation of abnormal cells in the body. The abnormal cells can cause problems for normal cells and spread throughout the body.

Adults and children are both diagnosed with cancer. It can affect organs, bones, and muscles in any section of the body.

The following are the most prevalent cancers:

  • Skin.

  • Thyroid.

  • Breast.

  • Lung.

  • Prostate.

  • Colon.

  • Bladder.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Cancer?

Cancer can sometimes go undetected for years and only be identified during a medical examination or screening.

These are some of the most common cancer signs and symptoms:

Signs are:

Symptoms are:

  • Fever.

  • Headaches.

  • Fatigue.

  • Pain.

  • Numbness.

  • Nagging cough.

  • Vision problems.

What Are the Side Effects of Cancer Treatment?

Conventional treatment for cancer includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and gene therapy. Physical difficulties can arise as a result of cancer and its therapeutic side effects, such as:

  • Pain.

  • Loss of endurance.

  • Loss of bone density.

  • Weight gain.

  • Brain fog.

  • Numbness in feet and hands.

  • Swelling of lymph nodes (lymphedema).

  • Swelling of arms, legs, torso, or face.

  • Muscle weakness.

  • Difficulty walking.

  • Loss of balance.

  • Joint stiffness.

  • Fatigue.

  • Heart problems.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help Cancer Patients?

Physical therapists have been trained and schooled to comprehend your health issues, including cancer. Your physical therapist will collaborate with you to create a customized treatment plan that addresses your unique requirements and objectives.

People undergoing cancer treatment, as well as cancer survivors, should engage in regular physical activity to reduce fatigue and increase their capacity to do normal daily activities. In some studies, exercises have been shown to boost a person's odds of surviving cancer. Many cancer-related difficulties can be reduced or prevented with the help of physical therapists who can build tailored exercise and therapy programs.

Physical therapists assist cancer patients before and after surgery. They assess patients for any issues mentioned before surgery and assist them in resolving them. They can aid in the healing of the incision site, enhance circulation, relieve discomfort, and reduce scarring after surgery. They assess clients for any physical therapy treatment needs by creating tailored treatment plans, assist them in recovering and healing more quickly than they would on their own.

How Does Regular Exercise Help During the Course of Cancer Treatment?

Regular exercise by cancer patients helps them in the following ways:

  • Help you get to and maintain a healthy weight.

  • It helps with breast cancer-related lymphedema.

  • Reduce the chance that some types of cancer will come back.

  • Improve your quality of life.

  • Helps you sleep better.

  • Keep or improve your physical ability to get things done.

  • Improves muscle strength, bone health, and range of motion.

  • Strengthen your immune system.

  • Increase your appetite.

  • Help the body and brain to work better.

  • Reduce feeling tired.

  • Lessen depression and anxiety.

  • Decrease treatment side effects.

What Should the Exercise Program for Cancer Patients Consist of?

A safe and effective fitness program before and after cancer treatment requires a variety of different sorts of workouts.

In general, a comprehensive program should include the following:

  • Breathing Exercises: Shortness of breath or trouble breathing may occur in cancer patients. This may prevent individuals from engaging in physical activity. Breathing exercises boost your endurance by moving air in and out of your lungs. These exercises can also help you relax if you are stressed or anxious, which causes your muscles to stiffen.

  • Stretching: Stretching on a daily basis might help you gain flexibility and improve your posture. It can help your body repair itself by increasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the muscles. If you have been inactive while recovering from cancer treatments, stretching can be quite beneficial. Radiation therapy, for example, can restrict your range of motion and cause your muscles to stiffen. Stretching can help break down scar tissue after surgery.

  • Balance Exercises: Cancer and its treatment can cause a loss of balance as a side effect. Balance exercises can assist you in regaining the function and mobility you require to safely return to your normal activities. Maintaining a good balance can also help you avoid injuries like falls.

  • Aerobic Exercise: This is a sort of exercise that elevates your heart rate and is also known as cardio. It can help you feel less exhausted during and after treatment by strengthening your heart and lungs. Walking is a simple and effective approach to get some cardio exercise. For example, your doctor may recommend walking 40 to 50 minutes at a moderate pace three to four times a week.

  • Strength Training: When a person is less active throughout cancer treatment and rehabilitation, muscle loss is common. Muscle weakness is a side effect of some medications. Strength training, often known as resistance training, is a type of exercise that helps you maintain and create strong muscles. Increased muscle mass can aid in improving balance, reducing tiredness, and making daily tasks easier. It also helps in the treatment of osteoporosis, a bone-thinning condition caused by some cancer treatments.

How to Exercise Safely During Cancer Treatment?

If you are experiencing side effects from your cancer or its treatment, it is critical to exercise caution. Depending on your unique side effects, you may need to alter your workout routine. If your treatment is damaging the nerves in your hand, for example, weight machines may be a better option than hand weights. Alternatively, if your treatment has resulted in bone loss, you should avoid neck-stretching exercises that increase your risk of falling.

Other techniques to make sure you get the most out of your fitness regimen while staying safe include:

  • Slowly progress. Even if you were physically active prior to your therapy, gradually increase your exercise level. This can help you avoid harm and becoming frustrated.

  • Exercise in a secure setting. If your immunity has been compromised by therapy, stay away from huge gyms where germs can readily spread.

  • Pay attention to your body. If your energy level is low, reduce the length or intensity of your workout until you feel better.

  • Keep yourself hydrated. To minimize dehydration, drink plenty of water during your workouts.

  • Consume a well-balanced diet. The appropriate nutrients, particularly those high in protein, aid in the recovery of your body after exercise. An oncology dietitian can assist you in creating a food plan.

  • See your doctor on a regular basis. During treatment, your health may change. Make sure your doctor checks crucial health markers like your blood count to see if you can exercise safely.

Keep yourself updated and learn more about the steps you can take following treatment to ensure that your fitness regimen is safe and effective.

What Are the General Physical Activity Recommendations for Cancer Survivors?

The guidelines for cancer survivors are:

  • After diagnosis and therapy, avoid inactivity and resume normal daily activities as soon as possible.

  • Regularly engage in physical activities.

  • Begin gently and gradually increase your physical activity.

  • Increase your weekly moderate activity to 150 minutes - 300 minutes.

  • Exercise for at least 10 minutes multiple times per week.

  • Include resistance training workouts in your weekly routine at least twice.

  • Stretching exercises should be done at least twice a week.


Physical wellness can be impacted by cancer surgery and therapies in a variety of ways, including muscle weakness, trouble balance, limited range of motion, and more. Physical therapy can help to restore physical function and strength as part of the healing process, allowing you to maintain or regain your quality of life.

Article Resources

Last reviewed at:
26 Apr 2023  -  6 min read




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