Physical Activity and Physical Therapy in Cancer


It is common for you to move less and want to rest more if you have cancer and go through different treatments. You may need to rest sometimes, but you are often better off trying to move on yourself and also enjoy exercising. Avoid too much sedentary sitting. The body works better, you get stronger, get better balance and more energy.

The fact that you move regularly affects your well-being. Physical activity often also helps with anxiety, sleep problems, and fatigue. It can give you the strength to cope with treatment and it can also help you get rid of cancer. Moving is not harmful.

You can usually continue with more demanding activities if you like it. Some adaptation may be needed, it may be good to slow down the pace and stretch in the beginning to feel what is right. The body may react differently to the pre-cancer, both because of the disease and the treatment.

Physical activity also helps against cancer-related fatigue

Many people who get cancer describe that they suffer from fatigue that they do not recognize before. Sometimes, for example, fatigue may be due to anemia or depression, but there is also fatigue that cannot be cured or rested. It’s called cancer-related fatigue. Physical activity is important to counteract this kind of fatigue.

Find an activity that suits you

The type of physical activity you can perform depends on what you are used to before, the disease and the treatment you receive. It is often easier if you start with something you like.

During certain periods, you may not have the trouble to endure what you want, but sometimes you may have to settle for simple movements and small challenges and increase your training gradually.

You can always ask questions about physical activity and exercise with your nurse or doctor. You can get concrete help with tips and advice tailored to your individual conditions by a physical therapist.

Set realistic goals

When you want to start with movements and activities, it is good to set realistic goals first and foremost.

If you are very tired and sit or lie for long periods of time, you may need to break your sedentary for only a short while, moving a little is a good start. Then you can try to be physically active for short periods several times a day. Set up goals that make you feel that you are developing.

Customize your workout to suit your needs

You may have rested a lot and entered a period when fitness has deteriorated. It makes you feel all the more tired and it becomes more difficult to do something. To get started, you need to find a good balance between activity and rest. If you start exercising too hard, the risk of overwork and injury increases.

Physical activity can feel laborious and courageous, but can still make you feel better both immediately after and in the long term. It can be easier if you get yourself routines and set times. Maybe you can find someone to make an appointment and work out with. Sometimes you may need to reduce your workout

During cytostatic treatment, it is common for blood levels to be affected. How much they are affected depends on the type of treatment you receive.

There is usually no reason to avoid exertion completely if you have a low blood value, ie a low level of hemoglobin, Hb, in the blood. You may feel tired and cope less, but you can usually take a walk at a decent pace.

It may sometimes be advisable to reduce the intensity during the time you are receiving treatment, or if the disease has lowered your physical ability if you are used to exercising frequently and hard. 

In the past, you could get the council to avoid crowds in, for example, training rooms because of susceptibility to infection, but today the council is that you should try to live as usual. However, if you are very susceptible to infection, you may need to adjust your exercise, ask your doctor, nurse or physiotherapist.

You can always get started later

If you have not been so active or trained during the treatment period, it is not too late to get started afterward. Even then, of course, you should step up the workout as the risk of overwork and injury increases if you start too hard. When treatment is completed

When you feel that you can cope more, you can follow the same advice about physical activity as for those who are healthy. Which form of exercise you choose does not matter, it is more important than the training be regular, preferably a few times a week.

Walking or any other physical activity of moderate intensity is sufficient to improve health. It should feel somewhat strenuous and the pulse should increase. You should do the activity at a “talk-friendly” pace, which corresponds to a quick walk.

A good goal is to be physically active for two and a half hours a week, spread over several days. It gets a little over 20 minutes a day with at least 10 minutes at a time if you distribute the time on all days of the week. In addition, strength training is recommended, two to three times a week. It can be exercises to do at home or workout at a gym.

For example, you might want to take a few stops if you are going to take a bus and take the stairs instead of the elevator. It also provides a good physical activity to work in the garden, shovel snow, vacuum or cycle regularly.

When should you avoid strenuous physical activity?

Do not put too much effort into your body if you have an ongoing infection. Exercise printed on the prescription

To help, you can sometimes also get physical activity on a prescription, FaR, by a doctor, nurse or physiotherapist. The recipe states what kind of activity is prescribed, for example, fitness training or strength training and if there is something special you should avoid. For example, the agreed activity can be Nordic walking, cycling or strength training. How things have gone should be followed up by the person who wrote the recipe.

Activities that you receive on prescriptions are usually outside the healthcare system and the costs are not included in the high-cost protection for healthcare. However, some associations and others that offer wellness activities may offer a lower price for participants with prescriptions. Some employers pay for part of the training.

A physical therapist can provide advice and support

You can get advice on various movements by a physical therapist. For example, you can get help adjusting the training to your personality and what hassles you have. At some hospitals and health centers, there are groups that you can train in, which can be helpful if you are unsure of what you can do.

For example, to become more agile and less painful, a physical therapist can, for example, stretch or soften a joint or muscle with the help of his hands. This is usually combined with exercises that you do regularly at home. Many times it is enough that you get a personal program to train mobility and muscle strength and advice on how to set up your workout. It can then be adjusted as needed.

Help against other inconveniences

You can also get help from a physiotherapist if you have other problems such as pain and stiffness, nausea, anxiety, swelling, hot flashes, and respiratory problems.

Contact with physiotherapist

How and where you can meet a physical therapist may look a little different depending on where you live in the country. At cancer clinics, there are often physiotherapists who have specialized knowledge of cancer diseases. Otherwise, you can contact physiotherapists at health centers or private clinics.

As long as you have closer contact with the health care, you can consult with a doctor or nurse about whom to contact. Contact a physiotherapist by calling and ordering yourself. Sometimes you may need a referral from a doctor, but the physiotherapy that requires referral may vary depending on where you live in the country. Advice on pain and stiffness

There are often medicines that help if you have pain due to your cancer disease or the treatments you are receiving. But you can also get the advice and help of a physical therapist.

Often stiffness and pain are associated. When you try to move after an operation or if you have not moved at all for a while it can hurt. Radiation therapy can cause stiffness, especially if a joint in the body has been radiated and it sometimes hurts. If you feel pain it easily causes you to move less and become stiffer. Pain can also cause a change in posture and strain which causes you to pain in other parts of the body.

Exercises for strength and mobility can help

You can often get strength exercises, mobility exercises and stretch exercises according to a program. It helps support the skeleton and leads if you exercise so that you are reasonably strong in your muscles throughout the body. Exercise can improve balance and you can better cope with the everyday stress the body is subjected to if you use your muscles and do exercises.

For the same reason, it is good to maintain or increase your mobility. You can do this through exercises when you make large or small movements in the joints. Sometimes you may also need to do stretching exercises if muscles or other tissues around the joints are tight.

Disorders of pain and stiffness in the joints are sometimes most difficult in the morning and after sitting still. Then it can be good to do stretching exercises, for example, before your usual everyday activities begin. It helps to increase blood flow and the muscles get a little softer.

Often, the hassles of morning stiffness can feel less when you get started during the day and are in motion.

You can also get help against pain and stiffness by exercising relaxation and exercising in body awareness, individually or in groups.

Prevention exercises before radiation therapy

Stiffness after radiotherapy can be prevented through a movement program that you do before or during the treatment period. Rigidity in the part of the body that is radiated, you get especially if you have previously been operated on in the same place and if a joint has been radiated. The stiffness can occur a few months after the treatment and is due to the tissue contracting as it healed after the radiation.

The motion program can help, for example, if you have breast cancer and the shoulder joint risks becoming stiff, or if you have cancer of the mouth, throat or throat and the jaw joints risk getting stiff. It is important that you continue to exercise mobility as the tissues can become stiffer in the future.

You can contact a physiotherapist if you feel that you become stiff in the lead for a while after the radiation treatment is completed. They can give advice and suggestions on exercises to improve mobility.

Treatment with tens

Ten is an abbreviation of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. This means that electrodes are attached to the skin and connected with cables to a box that produces weak electrical impulses. In this way, the body’s own pain relief system is activated. You can use most of the day’s tenses and you take care of the treatment yourself when you have been helped to try it out.

Massage softens for the moment

Massage can be a pleasant treatment that provides a moment of well-being. Massage can be obtained from massage therapists and sometimes by a physical therapist in combination with other treatments or training. The muscles and joints soften so that you get better blood flow and become less rigid, which in turn can cause you less pain.

Walking aids can provide relief

You can use walkers, crutches or walk-in tables for relief and pain relief if it hurts when you walk. Sitting or lying down often increases the pain while movement and physical activity reduce it.

To try out walking aids, you need to contact a physical therapist or occupational therapist.

Advice on nausea

Nausea is still a fairly common side effect if, for example, you are treated with cytostatic drugs. There are many good drugs that counteract nausea and vomiting. You can sometimes feel less nausea if you do relaxation exercises or moving, for example, taking a walk outdoors.

For certain types of nausea, you can try acupuncture, or dental treatment, for example. Advice on knitting and numbness

Certain cytostatic treatments can cause sensory disorders, called neuropathy. You can feel tingling and numbness but also pain and weakness in the muscles, sometimes even swelling. You can alleviate the hassles by, for example, trying out support socks. You may need to switch to another cytostatic treatment if you have major problems.

Physical activity can help with emotional disorders. It may then be better to cycle than walk, or to split the walk with breaks in between. An alternative to taking walks outdoors, where the ground may be uneven, is to walk on a walkway indoors. You can also try balance training and various mobility exercises and stretching exercises. 

You can also try light massage under the soles of the feet or use the tens and put it on the leg above the feeling change.

Sometimes you can benefit from posts in the shoes or some kind of walking aids to be able to be physically active more easily.

You can’t get rid of the hassles with these treatments, but they can make you feel better and make everyday life easier. Advice on sweating and swelling

You may experience sweating and swelling if you are receiving hormone therapy. For example, if you have breast or prostate cancer. Through physical activity and moving, you can feel better.

Relaxation exercises can also help. There are different types of relaxation that may be suitable.

Acupuncture can also relieve swelling and sweating. Many who are helped by acupuncture state that even sleep gets much better, which can facilitate everyday life and provide a better quality of life.Advice on breathing problems

Breathing gymnastics can help if you have breathing problems and have a lot of mucus that you need to cough up. It is good to try to sit up more if you are bedridden and to move if you are very sedentary.

Sometimes you can get a so-called valve or similar that you breathe in so that there is resistance during exhalation. Then you can use your lungs better and it will also be easier to cough up mucus. Sometimes you can also inhale, inhale, medications by mouth to widen the airways.

It can be easier to breathe if you have a walker to hold if you are short of breath and have difficulty getting enough air as you walk. Breathing can also be facilitated if you lean your arms to your knees or to a table while sitting or standing. Advice on lymphedema

When you are operated on or receive radiotherapy, you may get lymphedema, ie swelling of the body due to the accumulation of lymph fluid. You may in some cases get lymphedema in your arm after receiving treatment for breast cancer, but lymphedema can also develop in other body parts.

In addition to the swelling, you can get numbness and a feeling of weight and tension in the body part. You may also feel stiff and weak, sometimes even aching. It is usually not possible to fully recover from lymphedema, but if the symptoms are detected early and you receive treatment, the problems can be significantly reduced.


The most common treatment is the so-called compression. This means that the tissues surrounding the lymphatic edema are compressed by means of compression stockings. In addition to the compression treatment, you can receive manual lymphatic drainage or treatment with a lymph pulsator. You will receive these types of treatments by physiotherapists who have special training in lymph therapy.

Exercise does not increase the risk of getting lymphedema. When exercising, it is always important to start with a lighter load so that the body gets used before increasing the load. The same advice applies if you already have lymphedema. You can choose whether you want to wear the compression stocking during the workout or not, but it is important to wear it immediately after.

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