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By Yvonne Whitehouse, Specialist Physiotherapist in Oncology and Palliative Care

Why Physio for Cancer Patients?

When I tell people that I am a physio that works in a hospice and with people with cancer, there is usually a pause….then a what/why question? Why do you need a physio in a hospice? What can physio do for people with palliative illnesses? Why would someone with cancer want to see a physio?

These are all very good questions as the typical image that springs to mind is of a physio running onto the side of a football or rugby pitch, or someone that you go to see after you have sprained your ankle or had an operation on your knee.

However, physiotherapy is a very wide-ranging profession and physiotherapists can specialise in many different areas.

Hospice and Palliative Illness

In my role in a hospice, we work with people with any type of palliative illness.  A palliative illness is defined by the World Health Organisation as one which cannot be cured and is likely to lead to someone’s death. Marie Curie uses the terminology terminal illness, which is another name for a palliative illness, and other people use the term life-limiting.

Many different types of illness fall under the umbrella ‘palliative/terminal/life limiting.’ Whatever the type of illness, people can experience symptoms like pain, weakness, tiredness and breathlessness; which can all make moving around and getting on with day to day life more difficult.

Physiotherapy can be used in palliative care to treat these symptoms and to help people find ways to live with their illness.   This is called rehabilitative palliative care, and it takes into account that due to medical advancements in treating these illnesses, people can have long and happy lives with a palliative illness – working, looking after their children, going on holidays etc, but can need help to do this depending on how they are feeling.

Physiotherapy in Oncology

The other area I work in is oncology and the people who come to see me usually have had their cancer successfully treated (by an operation, treatments like radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and medication to reduce hormone levels).  These treatments, whilst effective in removing the cancer, can often leave people with side effects like tight scars, painful areas around the area of surgery or radiotherapy, tiredness, weakness or pins and needles in their hands and feet from chemotherapy, or swelling in a part of their body.

They can also often need help working out what exercise and activity is safe, and how to transition from being ‘a cancer patient’ back into normality.

Oncology physiotherapy can help with all of these side effects and I work with people to get back into physical activity and routine.

I am also a qualified yoga teacher and have specialised in yoga for menopause, and I integrate this knowledge into my physiotherapy practice.

Contact me now if you would like to discuss anything related to how physiotherapy can help you.

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