Unexpected Ways Physical Therapy Can Assist Those with Cancer

Unexpected Ways Physical Therapy Can Assist Those with Cancer

This fall, I was watching Game 4 of the 2018 World Series (Dodgers vs Red Sox) and at the end of the fifth inning, all of the players, spectators, and broadcasters participated in the Stand Up to Cancer placard movement. This has been a Major League Baseball tradition since 2011 and is truly mind-blowing. Fifty thousand plus people, from all walks of life, stand together and display names of people they know that have been affected by cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States and seeing a stadium full of people holding placards with names of their family members, co-workers, and friends truly indicates how widespread the effect of this disease is.

Thankfully, due to improvement in detection and early diagnosis, research, and treatment, survival rates continue to climb.  The five-year survival rate for cancer is 69%, which means there are millions of people surviving and living with a history of cancer.

Unfortunately, cancer treatments are extremely hard on the body. Surgery can lead to decreased movement and mobility, scar tissue, and lymphedema. Chemotherapy can cause GI issues, neuropathy and decreased heart function. Radiation can cause tissue damage and skin changes. Prolonged drug therapy disrupts the body by causing fatigue and increasing risk of infection. All of these treatments are necessary, life-saving components of cancer treatment. However, they cause secondary impairments that can disrupt quality of life.

An appropriate physical therapy treatment regimen can have an important and profound impact on cancer treatment. Appropriate, supervised cardiovascular exercise can help improve heart function and decrease fatigue. Stretching exercises will help restore range of motion, and strengthening exercises will help decrease fatigue and improve overall mobility and function. Exercises that work on proprioception can help improve balance and decrease fall risk secondary to neuropathy. Physical therapy is safe and appropriate both during and after cancer treatment.

As evidenced in the MLB Stand Up to Cancer movement, we all know someone affected by cancer. If you, or someone you love, is going through, or has completed, cancer treatment and is noticing fatigue, pain, decreased strength and range of motion, and an overall decrease in function, consider seeking out a physical therapist to help. Physical therapy can play a very important role in cancer treatment.  I would be honored to meet you or your loved one and become a part of the survival team with a focus on restoring function and quality of life.

Brittany Messer, PT, DPT

PRA – Mercy Medical Plaza



Stout NL. Cancer Rehabilitation: An Evidence Based Course for ALL Clinicians. March 10-11, 2018.