During treatment for cancer and possibly for a time after treatment is complete, you may experience changes in your levels of mobility. Certain cancer treatments can be intensive and as a result, often you may not feel like your usual active self.
This can be frustrating, especially for those who thrive from physical activities and exercise. But this doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. In fact, in most cases, moderate exercise can keep both your body and mind healthier.
Like everything, it’s finding the right balance for you. Whether you’re just starting to exercise or continuing it, your doctor and health care team will have some input on tailoring an exercise program that’s right for you; helping you to retain as much mobility as possible.
Here, we talk about why cancer treatments can cause changes in mobility. And things you can do to help you start feeling better.
Will I experience changes in my mobility?
This depends on several factors including the type and stage of cancer you’re being treated for, the type of treatment and your fitness level before treatment.
Some people receiving treatment for cancer will notice changes in mobility. This could be caused by anything from:
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain and stiffness
- Anxiety or depression
- Type of cancer, and if it directly affects nerves, soft tissue, fat, blood vessels, nerves tendons and the lining of joints
How could these changes affect me?
If your body don’t move around or remain immobile for long stretches of time then this can leave you more susceptible to infections, which your body may be too weak to recover from (due to lack of exercise). It can also increase the risk of blood clots.
Resting in the same position for long periods of time can also put extra pressure on the spine. This can cause back aches and pains, as well as pain around other pressure points. This can also potentially cause bed sores or skin irritation.
You may also find it may impact on your usual personal hygiene routine. Making it more difficult to get in and out of the bath, for example, or worried about slipping in the shower.
Immobility may also have an impact on your mental well-being, increasing the likelihood of feeling anxious and depressed.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways that you can improve and protect your mobility, well-being and general health during your treatment.
Cancer treatment and exercise
Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery can leave you feeling weaker and less mobile. This is totally normal. But unless movement causes pain, a rapid heart rate or shortness of breath, you may be encouraged to exercise during treatment.
Rest is also extremely important, but too much rest can potentially lead to loss of body function, muscle weakness and reduced range of motion. Everyone is different, however, so this depends on your individual circumstances or treatment. Always check with your health care team so they can help determine what’s right for you.
Ways exercising may help you feel better during cancer treatment
There are all kinds of ways that exercise can help you feel better during your treatment. As long as you have the go-ahead from your healthcare team, with regular, moderate exercise you can:
- Keep muscles from wasting due to inactivity
- Keep up or improve your physical abilities
- Improve blood flow to your legs and other areas around your body, lowering the risk of blood clots.
- Improve your mood by increasing endorphins (the feel-good chemical your body produces) which helps to combat anxiety and depression
- Keep your bones strong and lessen the risk of osteoporosis
- Help you to keep a healthy weight
- Give you more energy
- Lessen nausea
I tried Dr Yoga’s recommendation today, which was the sun salutation, and can’t believe how quickly it worked to improve my circulation - I had mistakenly been walking at faster and faster paces to try to improve circulation but it had no effect on my legs. It is amazing how a slow movement can have such an impact. I am going to start each day with this to get my circulation going, and I will try out the other two movements when I learn how to do them. Thank you so much for your advice, which for me has made a huge difference already and I can recommend it to anyone else with circulation problems - I also have lymphoedema so I think it might help there too. I will let you know when I’ve tried it for a week or two. Greatly appreciated.” - Val, Live Better With Community Member
What type of exercise is best?
All though some form of exercise will usually always be recommended, the type and intensity of will vary. But from yoga to dance fit, jogging to stretching, all exercise can be taken up or down a notch depending what fits you.
Getting advice or help from an exercise specialist, physical therapist or exercise physiologist can help you figure out what’s best for you. Make sure whoever is helping you knows about your cancer diagnosis and any limitations you have as a result. And to be sure, always check with your healthcare team or GP first.
Your exercise program will depend on several factors:
- The type of treatment that you’re having
- The type and stage of cancer that you are receiving treatment for
- Your current strength and fitness level
- Your age any physical condition
- Your fitness level and exercise routine before treatment
For example, if you didn’t exercise much before, it would probably be inadvisable to begin exercising every day now. You may need to start with short sessions or low-intensity exercise.
If you’re used to regular, intense physical exercise, although you may need to lower the intensity (and frequency) during treatment, you should be able to continue doing some of the exercises you already enjoy.
I was told exercise is good and you meet lots of people in the same situation. I do pilates, yoga, dance keep fit and exercise." - Minsky, Live Better With Community Member
Mobility and personal hygiene
When we’re less mobile, things we often take for granted can suddenly take on a new dimension. One of these things can be maintaining our personal hygiene in the way we normally would. Things like getting in and out of the bath or navigating a wet shower floor suddenly may not seem so easy.
Introducing measures to help you feel more comfortable could be a good first step. Things like:
- Getting a rubber suction mat for the bottom of your bath and/or shower to avoid slipping.
- Try a secure shower stool so you don’t need to stand up in the shower. This stool is height adjustable for comfort.
- If you’re unable to wash your hair as you usually would, this ingenious shampoo shower cap helps make your hair feel fresh and clean without leaving the bed.
- If you need some extra leverage, simple to attach support suction grab bars can be installed in your shower or next to your bath to help you get in and out, as well as lend extra support where you need it.
- If rubbing yourself all over with a towel to get dry isn’t practical, the NeverNaked Drying Drapron could help.
All of these things can help to maintain personal independence, as well as help you feel more comfortable as you navigate your treatment.
Where to get a helping hand
As well as an exercise specialist, physical therapist or exercise physiologist, you may be referred to a chiropractor or oncology rehabilitation therapist. Physical and occupational therapists will be able to use a combination of treatments. These can range from massage and manual manipulation to range-of-motion training and light resistance exercise. You may also be recommended specific exercises or strength training to help prepare you for surgery.
You might also find that products such as Live Better With Muscle Balm help you get more comfortable, or ease muscle pain and tension.