Physical therapy: A helping hand for cancer survivors

By Anne Williams

Physical Therapist
Mountainside Physical Therapy

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it is also National Physical Therapy Month. How appropriate that these coincide, as the role of a physical therapist becomes ever more important to breast cancer survivors. It is estimated that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. A staggering number to contemplate, but the good news is that with the continuing advances in oncology diagnostics and treatments, it means there are so many more survivors.

Anne Williams Courtesy phot

No doubt your physician has your best interests in mind, from diagnosis to discharge — but you should always be a self advocate. Do your research and your homework. The trend is moving towards more pre-surgical care, as well as post-surgical care, for cancer patients across the board.

Not only should you be educated about the possible adverse effects of concurrent radiation and chemotherapy treatments, but findings indicate that you should employ exercise throughout your course of treatment to help minimize these effects. A physical therapist can help you develop a program to help maintain your strength, endurance and balance prior to surgery. Education regarding prevention of lymphedema before surgery and hands-on care afterwards can be crucial to maximizing your wellbeing and lifestyle during your recovery.

Other complications can arise from your treatment including muscle weakness, myelopathies, peripheral neuropathies, musculoskeletal imbalances, scar tissue restrictions, frozen shoulder and chronic pain are just a few problems that physical therapists are educated to help you with. If you need more specialized care, they may refer you to a specialist in this area. Manual therapy for the post-surgical breast cancer patient, whether you have had a mastectomy, lumpectomy or surgical reconstruction, can be crucial to complete recovery and return to full function.

So what if my doctor didn’t recommend therapy, you may be thinking? Please be proactive and discuss referral to physical therapy with your physician as physical therapy is becoming more widely recognized by doctors and insurance companies as an integral component to a more complete recovery. If you have difficulty, the great news is that most states in the U.S., including Virginia, allow direct access to physical therapy services. That means, that if you have any questions or concerns, you can go directly to a physical therapist for evaluation and treatment for up to one month without a doctor’s referral and most insurances will cover your treatment. If you need immediate referral to a physician or need therapy beyond thirty days, your therapist will seek authorization from your physician or surgeon.

Mountainside Physical Therapy and Lakeside Manual Physical Therapy offer two convenient locations and we are here to help you. Please do not hesitate the to contact us. Physical therapy is a restorative and palliative treatment option to help you regain control of your life and your body. Please remember, any cancer survivor who should have any new onset of pain should be evaluated by their physician, secondary to the possibility of metastasis, so don’t wait until it is too late! And don’t forget, early detection depends on you!

Mountainside Physical Therapy
12625 Lee Highway
Washington, Va.


Lakeside Manual Physical Therapy
9445 Zachary Taylor Highway
Unionville, Va


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