Written By SMH Lymphedema / Physical Therapist Sherry Ireland
Cancer rehabilitation is an important part of Sarasota Memorial’s integrated cancer-care approach. Cancer—and even cancer treatments—can affect a person’s normal physical abilities. For instance, chemotherapy leaves most people feeling drained of energy, and this chronic sense of fatigue can impair daily-living capabilities and diminish their quality of life. Cancer rehab is designed to help a patient build strength and endurance, experience less pain, and feel better overall, which leads to better physical function and boosts quality of life.
Sarasota Memorial’s cancer rehabilitation teams customize treatment plans based on each patient’s unique circumstance and health goals. From physical, occupational, and speech therapy, to psychosocial services and nutrition, SMH Rehab helps cancer patients at every step of their journey to wellness.
Cancer Rehab for Survivors
Tailored rehabilitation plans for cancer survivors can help them get back to doing the things they love sooner. It can boost memory, concentration, and other cognitive capacities, as well as improve mood and quality of life. Other rehab benefits for survivors include:
- Decreased pain
- Decreased fatigue, while increasing energy and endurance
- Improved balance and walking
- Improved strength
- Make swelling from lymphedema more manageable
- Improved swallowing and eating ability
- Improved speech
Exercise During Rehab
Exercising safely, with guidance from a rehab therapist, can help cancer patients regain strength and stamina, while reducing fatigue and pain. Cancer rehab employs several different types of exercise— aerobic, strengthening, flexibility and mind-body—each of which offers varying benefits; these include:
- Aerobic exercise: Improves self-esteem, cardiovascular health and physical fitness.
- Resistance/strength training: Improves muscle function and has long-term health benefits
- Stretching: Improves flexibility and range of motion
- Mind-body exercise: Reduces stress and anxiety, as well as fatigue and depression
Lymphedema is an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the skin’s tissue that causes swelling, usually in the arms or legs. It starts as a result of insult to the skin, either through injury, stress, surgery, radiation, or trauma, and cancer patients sometimes develop it after treatment.
Left untreated, lymphedema becomes painful and can affect range of motion. Cancer survivors could see tissue/skin changes and have an increased risk of infection. Lymphedema isn’t curable, but it can be managed with the right treatment, making it vital to see a specialist who is certified in lymphedema therapy.
Treating lymphedema often involves manual lymph drainage; skin/nail care; exercises to reduce swelling and improve circulation; and some form of compression, including bandaging, compression garments, or using a compress pump.
Helpful Exercises for All Stages
In cancer rehab programs, exercise plans are individualized and depend on patient needs and treatment stage, but there are some exercises that can be beneficial for all cancer patients—no matter what stage they are in—and for survivors. Here are a few examples:
Abdominal/belly breathing: Improves breathing and boosts lung capacity. Place hands on your stomach and gently breathe in/out while, focusing on your breath and the rise/fall of your stomach.
Shoulder blade squeezes: Improves posture. Squeeze shoulder blades together. Hold 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
For more specialized treatment with exercise, consult a physical or occupational therapist.
At the Sarasota Memorial Rehab Program, our goal is to help cancer patients and survivors to not only survive, but to thrive.
For more information on the program, call 941-917-7827 or click here.
SMH Physical Therapist Sherry Ireland, MS, PT, CLT, is a certified lymphedema therapist with nearly two decades of physical therapy experience. She specializes in cancer rehabilitation, outpatient orthopedics, and vertigo and balance issues.