Physical Therapy for Any Stage of Cancer Treatment

Tracy Gose, DTP, physical therapist with CHI Memorial Specialty Care Physical Therapy

Tracy Gose, DTP, physical therapist with CHI Memorial Specialty Care Physical Therapy


Cancer treatment can be physically and emotionally demanding. The disease itself – not to mention the surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation can negatively impact a person’s health and take a toll mentally, physically and spiritually. CHI Memorial’s new specialty care physical therapy services are here to help individuals prepare for the challenges of cancer treatment.

Cancer prehabilitation is a multidisciplinary program that begins after a cancer diagnosis and before the initiation of acute treatment. For many cancer types, the primary or first line of treatment is surgery. The idea behind prehabilitation is to begin interventions to reduce loss of functional ability and deconditioning that can come with surgery or other rigorous cancer treatment options.

When you’re referred for prehabilitation, a physical therapist will first assess your functional status and your ability to perform the normal activities of daily living. These standardized tests include a 6-minute walk, strength tests, range of motion, grip strength as well as endurance and aerobic capacity. Knowing your functional status serves as a baseline and can help your care team more easily identify and prevent deconditioning as your treatment progresses.

After the evaluation, an exercise program is tailored to improve endurance, balance and strength prior to surgery. This phase of the program typically includes physical therapy sessions two to three times a week for 10 to 12 visits. Improvement in these areas can make a positive impact on a person’s recovery overall, and it encourages participants when they can see and feel themselves getting stronger. More than just feeling better, individuals who actively engage in prehabilitation may see improved pulmonary function, fewer complications after surgery, a shorter hospital stay, and an increased tolerance to chemotherapy.

If you’re reading this and think, “I wish I had known about this before I started treatment,” it’s not too late to take advantage of cancer rehabilitation services. If you’re in active cancer treatment or survivorship and seem to be struggling with tiredness, weakness, general deconditioning or other concerns as result of cancer treatment, you may benefit.

Your primary care provider or oncologist can coordinate specialty care physical therapy services at your request. With a physician referral, most insurance plans allow for a physical therapy initial evaluation and treatments.

Just like in prehabilitation, a functional assessment will help identify any deficits and aid your treatment team in developing a customized therapy program – including exercises and interventions to counteract symptoms and side effects of cancer treatment. No matter what stage you are in your cancer journey, you will receive an individualized plan to address your concerns, with the goal of returning you to your pre-diagnosis level.

Learn more about specialty care physical therapy at CHI Memorial by calling 423.495.4705. For any cancer related concern, call CHI Memorial’s Cancer Connect line at 423.495.2222.  

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