It’s Time to Recondition Your Body
Caring for yourself or your loved one sometimes involves finding creative ways to meet your physical challenges. Your brain tumor – or the surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy you may have had to undergo – can affect the amount of control you have in moving your body. Loss of balance or sensation, decreased muscle movement, strength and coordination changes or reduced endurance may transform the way you go about your everyday basic tasks.
Physical therapy is a branch of rehabilitation medicine offering examination and treatment of musculoskeletal and neuromuscular challenges that impact your ability to move and function. Through physical therapy, you can learn how to improve your physical skills and discover new ways to exercise safely to reduce stress, relieve pain and prevent injury.
What Can Physical Therapy Offer People with Brain Tumors?
A physical therapist can help you identify mobility skills that have been affected by your brain tumor or treatment. Depending on your condition, you may be able to improve your physical functioning by performing exercises and activities. If some of your challenges are permanent or severe, you may be able to learn compensation techniques and how to use assistive devices. This may include re-learning how to walk or learning to walk in a different way with the support of a cane or leg bracing.
Through heat packs or ultrasound – combined with stretching or therapeutic massage – your physical therapist can help you gain relief from tight painful muscles and promote movement. If you are unable to move a part of your body, such as an arm or leg, you will learn how to safety exercise it to improve circulation and reduce swelling.
Requesting and Selecting Physical Therapy
First, you want to make sure you have insurance coverage for physical therapy. Contact your insurer and ask if you are covered for outpatient therapy and for how many sessions. And make sure the program you are considering is part of the insurer's network of approved providers.
If you are covered, the next step is to ask your doctor to write a referral or prescription for a physical therapy evaluation and treatment. Your hospital may offer a rehabilitative medicine program that includes physical therapy services. Or you might look for a brain injury rehabilitation program; these programs view brain surgery as a brain injury. The American Physical Therapy Association offers a physical therapist search feature that empowers you to search by state and therapist expertise. Look for a physical therapist with expertise in neurological conditions.
If your insurance does not cover physical therapy, you still may qualify for a home-based physical therapy program. Your insurer still may provide coverage under specific terms.
Your Evaluation Process
The physical therapist will evaluate your strength and recommend an exercise program that can help you gradually build up to your maximum level of physical activity. Tell the therapist about your specific difficulties and safety concerns, as well as your goals and expectations.
In your evaluation, you will undergo some standardized tests to determine muscle coordination, strength and endurance. For instance, you might be asked to maintain your balance while sitting and to raise your arms as far as you can.
A typical physical therapy program might last eight weeks, but the length can vary depending on your specific needs and your insurance coverage. On an eight-week schedule, you might have sessions three times a week for four weeks, and then two times a week for four more weeks. You might have three or four different activities, with goals set for each one.
At the end of your therapy, you will be evaluated again to determine if the program helped you meet the goals set out for you. You might also be given a number of exercises you can do at home to maintain the progress you have made.
Physical Therapy Exercises
In therapy, you will get a set of exercises that match your current abilities and then you will work on building your skills. For example, you may be asked to increase the number of repetitions lifting small weights or the amount of time you spend walking on a treadmill. Here are some common exercises and therapies:
- Strength training: Getting your strength back is essential for your recovery. You may lift weights, moving to progressively heavier weights or asked to pull elastic bands of various strengths, moving to higher resistances. You may also be asked to walk or ride a stationary bike.
- Restoring limb movement: If you are unable to move an arm or a leg, you may learn ways to safely exercise them. This may involve range of motion exercises, which you might start under assistance and later do on your own. Your goal will be to gently increase range of motion while decreasing pain, swelling, and stiffness.
- Compensation techniques: If you have trouble walking, you may learn to walk in a different way or learn how to use a cane, portable walker or wheel chair. You may be given other aids, such as an ankle-foot orthosis, a plastic brace to support your ankle.
- Sitting balance: Here you would work to regain head control, trunk control and weight bearing through the legs and arms. You might work out on a padded mat or sit on a large, springy exercise ball, which requires you to use many different muscles to keep your balance.
- Standing balance: You can practice walking with parallel bars that give you support, or you may be placed in a lift with a harness to support you as you walk on a treadmill. You may also relearn how to step over and around objects without loss of balance.
- Transfer training: These exercises will help you carry out the everyday activities that are so important to restoring your normal life. For example, you may relearn how to get up from a sitting position, move between surfaces and get in and out of a car.
It is important to remember every patient will have their own timeline and activities. Your healthcare team will be able to work together to make a plan that best suits your needs.