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  • Writer's pictureSimone Grove

5 benefits of oncology physiotherapy

When most people hear the word physiotherapy, they tend to only think about the musculoskeletal type of treatment – working with the bones, muscles and soft tissues to improve flexibility and mobility or to support recovery post-injury or surgery. But physiotherapy is an incredibly versatile and complex discipline that covers all aspects of health and offers benefits for many different conditions beyond physical injury.

One area that is rapidly growing in awareness is oncology physiotherapy. As a cancer specialist I’ve been working with patients as an oncology physiotherapist for some time - and it’s wonderful to see it becoming more well-known as a mainstream treatment alongside conventional cancer care.

There are so many amazing benefits associated with oncology physiotherapy – and here I’m sharing five outcomes that can make a real difference to cancer patients in terms of quality of life, wellbeing, recovery and prognosis.

What is oncology physiotherapy?

Before we dive into the benefits within oncology care, first let’s run through a little more on what it is, how it works and what you can expect from a treatment.

Also known as physical therapy, physiotherapy works through administering and teaching adaptive techniques and movements to restore mobility and strength across different areas of the body. Oncology physiotherapy will be targeted and concentrate on the area or areas that require the most attention, whether you’re experiencing loss of movement in one specific area, have lost flexibility through surgery or scar tissue, or are experiencing overall muscle weakness, loss of strength or fatigue.

How does oncology physiotherapy work?

Both cancer itself and cancer treatments can affect the body in a number of ways, causing symptoms such as muscle weakness and loss of strength, difficulty balancing, limited mobility and restricted flexibility. Physiotherapy is a medically proven technique that helps to restore these functions gently and effectively.

Working with the body often has a positive impact on overall quality of life and mental health for patients, too, as they’re able to do more activities they enjoy and may experience faster and smoother recovery from treatment and/or surgery.

Different techniques can be applied depending on your unique situation and diagnosis – ranging from hands on therapy to remote support.Oncology physiotherapy is suitable at any stage of cancer treatment, from diagnosis and through treatment to palliative care or remission. 5 amazing benefits of oncology physiotherapy include:

1/ Regain strength, flexibility and stamina

One of the primary goals of physiotherapy is to restore movement and mobility all over the body or in specific areas. Through gently and persistently retraining muscles treatment can help to improve walking, balancing, joint movement and more – as well as helping to regain physical fitness levels.

2/Improve energy and activity levels

Low energy and lethargy are common during cancer treatment – but remarkably physiotherapy can support with this, though specialist advice, coping strategies and using exercise - acting in a similar way to usual exercise to release endorphins and increase energy levels. This in turn helps you to do more of what you love or take care of more daily tasks by yourself, increasing independence.

3/ Support pain management

Oncology physiotherapy can help you to feel more comfortable and reduce pain levels, as well as alleviating other unpleasant physical sensations such as numbness, tingling, spasms, cramps and burning. Although it is not always a substitute for pain medications, oncology physiotherapy may reduce or eliminate the need for opioid pain medications, helping patients to avoid any unpleasant symptoms associated with taking strong painkillers on a regular basis.

4/ Enhance lymphatic drainage

Lymphoedema is a common symptom often related to cancer, especially following surgery. It is characterised by swelling in either the upper or lower limbs, and can be uncomfortable and upsetting if left untreated. Oncology physiotherapy naturally encourages the flow of lymph to help detoxify and balance the body. Your therapist can also recommend products or medical devices such as compressive clothing to help reduce the symptoms of lymphoedema.

5/ Elevate mood

Like normal exercise, physiotherapy elevates mood and helps with stress and anxiety management in a holistic and subtle way. Being able to work towards goals, to see tangible progress, or learning adaptive techniques focusing on independence naturally improves both quality of life and emotional and mental wellbeing.

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