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How physical therapy can help cancer patients

Health

How physical therapy can help cancer patients

With treatment advancements, more cancer patients than ever are surviving their battles with the disease. However, cancer treatments can take a physical toll.
“With the outstanding progress being made, survivorship is increasing,” says Dargan Ervin, senior physical therapist at Tidelands Health Rehabilitation Services at North Myrtle Beach. “But in some cases, people need help regaining their strength and flexibility so they can resume normal activity levels.”
Through Tidelands Health Cancer Care Network, our region’s most comprehensive provider of cancer care, patients can benefit from a team of rehabilitation therapists such as Ervin who specialize in helping cancer care patients counteract the physical effects of their battles with the disease.
Sometimes, Ervin says, cancer patients simply aren’t aware of the ways physical therapy can help.

Big benefits

Depending on the individual and type of cancer, cancer treatments can significantly weaken a person, leading to difficulties with strength, energy and balance that can contribute to injury or other complications. For example, chemotherapy can impact strength, resulting in an increased risk of falling, and radiation can result in soft tissue trauma.
Physical therapy can be a great tool to help counteract those effects. Ervin remembers a patient undergoing chemotherapy who was unable to walk on her own.  

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“We started her off slow so that she could improve step by step,” says Ervin. “The first goal was to get her to roll over and sit up on the bed by herself. Then it progressed to her transferring to a chair without needing help. By the fourth or fifth week, we had her walking around the house with a walker.”
Weakness and reduced flexibility can also prevent people undergoing cancer treatment from being able to engage in other normal daily activities beyond walking. 
“I see a number of these folks with very stiff shoulder joints who are not able to reach the shelf to get a cup of coffee or to brush their hair or teeth on their own,” says Ervin. “Fortunately, there are exercises that can often restore mobility and strength to the extremities in these people.”

Start light

Many cancer patients aren’t aware they can or should exercise to combat the effects of treatment. Some people think it may harm rather than help them, but the opposite is true, Ervin says. It is important, however, for cancer patients to start with light exercises.
“It helps in many ways: balance, strength, circulation and so on,” says Ervin. “But for some patients, the biggest advantage is that the exercise just makes them feel better.
“Physical therapy really can help these patients. That’s why this is such a hot topic for me. I’m passionate about helping those who’ve fought cancer regain a more normal way of life.”
In addition to physical therapy, Ervin says occupational therapy and speech therapy may also benefit some cancer patients.

Meet the Expert

Dargan Ervin

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