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Physical therapy can help cancer patients regain strength, feel better

Health

Physical therapy can help cancer patients regain strength, feel better

With treatment advancements, more cancer patients than ever are surviving their battles with the disease. While that’s great news, 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, an affiliate of MUSC Health and 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 from their battles with the disease.
Too often, Ervin says, cancer patients aren’t aware of the ways in which physical therapy can help.

Improves strength, balance

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 weaken people so that they’re at increased risk of falling, and radiation can result in soft tissue trauma.

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Physical therapy can be a great tool for these people. Ervin remembers one patient undergoing chemotherapy who was initially so weak that she was transferred back and forth from chair to bed all day with no further activity.
“I 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 her spouse having to help. By the fourth or fifth week, we had her walking around the house with a walker.”

Restores mobility

Weakness and stiffness can also prevent those undergoing cancer treatment from being able to engage in normal daily activities.
“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. “There are exercises that can often restore mobility and strength to the extremities in these people.”
Many cancer patients aren’t aware that 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.

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“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 be recommended for some cancer patients.

Meet the Expert

Dargan Ervin

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