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Physical Therapy for Mesothelioma Patients

Physical therapists are trained professionals who have studied and practiced to help all kinds of clients, from healthy athletes to people struggling to live with cancer. They help patients by using guided physical strategies, like stretching, massage, exercise, and others to address specific problems like lack of mobility or pain.

For someone living with mesothelioma, life can become challenging. These patients struggle with pain, fatigue, and a decrease in activity that can make symptoms worse and life less enjoyable. Working with a physical therapist can provide these patients with a number of benefits: less pain, greater mobility, improved mood, and reduced fatigue. A physical therapist can be an important member of the medical team caring for patients with mesothelioma.

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What is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is a type of health therapy or treatment that has proven benefits. It is focused on movement and can address a number of health issues, from sports injuries to chronic back pain to lack of mobility caused by an illness. The overall goal of physical therapy for any patient is to make moving easier and less painful and to increase the ability to perform the activities of everyday life.

Physical therapists may work with physicians and other medical professionals, but may also work independently, diagnosing and treating patients. They use manual therapy—moving and guiding the patient’s body in various ways—as well as other strategies such as hot and cold therapy, water therapy, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and education to help patients. They provide strategies that patients can use on their own to make moving easier.

The Challenges of Living with Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is difficult to live with and challenging to treat. Both the cancer and the treatments cause symptoms and side effects that cause pain, immobility, and fatigue. These can all be addressed by various treatments and therapies, but physical therapy can be an important part of the overall treatment strategy that makes living with mesothelioma less uncomfortable.

Pleural mesothelioma, the most common form of the disease, affects the lungs and causes symptoms that include chest pains, difficulty breathing, and coughing. Treatments for mesothelioma include chemotherapy, which can cause fatigue and nausea. Surgery may also be used to treat mesothelioma, which can cause pain and reduced mobility. All of these things together reduce the quality of life for patients, making it more challenging to perform basic daily activities. Patients with mesothelioma may experience depression, anxiety, and social isolation.

How Physical Therapy Can Help

Physical therapists can help mitigate many of the challenges of living with mesothelioma and its treatments. They can help in a variety of ways from increasing mobility to decreasing fatigue and making the side effects of treatment less severe. Most often, physical therapists helping mesothelioma patients will work with the medical team and the oncologist to provide the best care. These are some of the most important benefits a physical therapist can provide for a patient with mesothelioma:

  • Minimize treatment side effects. The side effects of mesothelioma treatment can be uncomfortable, painful, and for many people, severe. Researchers have found that being physically active with the guidance of a physical therapist can help cancer patients experience minimized side effects from treatment, particularly pain. Physical therapy may be especially helpful in reducing or preventing discomfort and lack of mobility after a surgical procedure.
  • Respiratory therapy for better breathing. One of the most common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma is difficulty breathing: pain full coughing, shortness of breath, and pain when breathing. These often get worse as the disease progresses. Physical therapists use respiratory therapy that includes breath training and exercises for the airways to help patients manage these types of symptoms.
  • Increase mobility. Greater mobility is one of the most important things a physical therapist can do for a mesothelioma patient. Using guided exercises, stretches, and other therapies, a physical therapist can help a patient move more easily and with less pain. This opens up a whole world of opportunities for the patient from simply being able to perform daily tasks like bathing and cooking to being able to go out to be more active and socialize with friends. Mobility has a profound impact on patients, negative when mobility is limited and positive when it is restored.
  • Improve overall physical fitness. With limited mobility, pain, and fatigue, being physically active is a big challenge for mesothelioma patients. Being active is important though, because maintaining fitness while sick helps patients feel better and recover better. It even helps improve outcomes. Studies have proven that when cancer patients are physically active, mortality rates go down. A physical therapist has an important role to play in helping patients get more active and physically fit. They help patients learn and perform exercises that are adapted for their specific needs and limitations.
  • Fight fatigue. Fatigue is a major issue for most cancer patients. For someone with mesothelioma, the cancer itself causes fatigue, but this is also a common side effect of chemotherapy. Being more active, although it seems counterintuitive, is one of the best ways to fight fatigue. Mesothelioma patients will feel more energized when they participate in physical therapy sessions.
  • Improve mood and quality of life. Working with a physical therapist is a great way to battle the anxiety, depression, and stress that often accompany life with mesothelioma. Physical activity is proven to boost mood and reduce stress, but the specific benefits of physical therapy, like pain and fatigue reduction and increased mobility, also help to improve mood. Together all of these benefits help a patient with mesothelioma enjoy a better quality of life.

There are many good reasons why working with a physical therapist is an important strategy in the overall care of a patient with mesothelioma. The benefits range from reducing side effects of treatment to increasing energy and helping patients get more active and physically fit. Any patient with mesothelioma should consider physical therapy, but it is important to try this treatment technique with the support and guidance of the patient’s medical team or oncologist. Most cancer treatment centers have physical therapists on staff or that they work with that can be recommended to patients.

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