One complementary cancer treatment that may be used as part of the rehabilitation process is physical therapy. A physical therapist may create a physical fitness regimen for you, consisting of cardiovascular, flexibility and strength training. Physical therapy also includes massage therapy, which recent studies show massage can decrease stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, and increase alertness.
Ensuring patients maintain some level of physical activity during and after cancer treatment can help reduce stress, prevent fatigue and improve overall quality-of-life. Exercise—even minimal physical exertion—increases heart rate and muscle flexion, while boosting your body’s tolerance to chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Participating in daily exercise programs will enable you to gain a sense of physical control over your condition, and will provide an outlet for stress and anxiety. In addition, exercise will instill you with the motivation and the drive for optimal wellness.
Exercise programs combine range-of-motion training with other light activities, like resistance training, to provide you with the right amount of exercise. Designed for patients capable of maintaining independent self-care, these programs will help you identify and address strength and stamina deficiencies, before your fatigue increases to debilitating levels.
Example of therapies that may be available to you are:
Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) – The Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion helps therapists determine the intensity of exercise you can tolerate. The scale ranges from 6 (no exertion at all) to 20 (maximal exertion). Since the condition of each person is unique, the Borg system measures “exercise” as any activity that increases heart rate. Most people achieve 65 to 75 percent of their maximum heart rate during exercise.
Flexibility Program – Stretching is a beneficial activity you may engage in to relieve joint stiffness and pain, at the same time improving your overall mobility and range-of-motion. The benefits of stretching include:
- Enhancement of performance in everyday activities
- Improvement of mobility and independence
- Improvement and maintenance of posture and muscle balance
- Injury prevention
Massage therapy – Many people seeking rehabilitation therapy are women recovering from breast cancer surgery. Often, this surgery requires the removal of lymph glands, or the structures that regulate the flow of lymphatic fluid through the lymphatic vessels. The absence of lymph glands can cause excess lymphatic fluid to pool in the patient’s extremities, consequently limiting range-of-motion and increasing the likelihood of infection. This is known as lymphedema, and occurs in about thirty percent of women receiving radical mastectomy surgery. Lymphedema can also be a side effect of other cancer that involve the removal of lymph nodes.