Physical Therapy and Cancer Treatments

Physical Therapy and Cancer Treatments

By Jamie Tjalma

Cancer. It’s a battle. A battle that too many people have to fight. A foe that can be beaten, regardless of outcome.  Perhaps said best by Stuart Scott, UNC alum and ESPN anchor, who lost his life to cancer in 2015, “You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live. So live. Live!  Fight like hell.  And when you get too tired to fight, then lay down and rest and let someone else fight for you.”

Those “someone elses” are your army.  You’re going into battle. You deserve an army. There will be the usual people: family, friends, neighbors, doctors, nurses, who will play the most integral roles in supporting you and helping you fight. There should also be other, less obvious soldiers in your army too. My colleagues and I can be some of those unexpected soldiers. I am a physical therapist. Not only can I help you fight your battle, I’d be honored to do so.

Physical therapists know the musculoskeletal system. We know how to manipulate this system, through direct techniques, such as hands-on joint and soft tissue work, and indirect techniques, such as exercise, to help reduce pain and improve function and quality of life. Research has shown that moderate exercise reduces cancer death rate by 34% and increases survival rate by 33%. During cancer treatment, exercise has been shown to improve upper and lower body strength and reduce fatigue. There has even been research indicating a 50% reduction in cancer reoccurrence for females who exercised at least 3 hours per week.

Some of the more specific complications physical therapy can address for you, often resulting from various cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, include addressing scar tissue tightness and adhesions, fibrosis, swelling, nerve pain, joint pain and dysfunction, muscle weakness, deconditioning, and fatigue.

Physical therapists can be valuable members of your army during all phases of cancer treatment. When you’re in the thick of the battle, during treatment, we can help improve pain, reduce fatigue and keep your body going. And, after the battle, when you’re ready to just get back to being you, we’ll be there to build you back up.

If cancer is ever a battle that you find yourself facing, listen to Stuart and fight the good fight. But bring the biggest army you can and let others help you fight.  Look beyond the usual suspects and know that you can find support in a wide variety of locations, sometimes unexpected so keep an open mind. As a physical therapist, I hope you will seek out someone in my profession. We are ready, willing and able to be a soldier for you!.

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Jamie Tjalma is a physical therapist and is the lead clinician at ATI Physical Therapy in Chapel Hill.  She is a Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist and trained in dry needling.  Jamie treats a wide array of musculoskeletal conditions including spine dysfunction, headaches, dizziness and jaw pain.  In her spare time, she is kept busy by her 4 year old daughter and a new puppy, to whom she has lost at least 6 pairs of shoes!