In 2014 it was expected that there would be over one and a half million new cancer cases reported. There are so many forms of cancer and each one responds differently to treatment and holistic health practices. However, many studies have shown that healthy living benefits cancer patients in many ways. Not only does this include a healthy diet and good stress management but also exercise. Physical activity supports our body’s immune system, muscles, and overall health. In this article we will look at some of the common pain conditions related to cancer and the treatment of cancer, the overall benefits of exercise, and make some suggestions for safe exercise practices.
Common pain conditions related to cancer
Cancer pain has the capacity to cause both acute and chronic pain. Acute pain is short term and usually lasts just the duration of an illness or injury. In cancer patients this is often related to surgery and can be kept under control with pain medications until the site is fully healed.
Chronic pain can be harder to treat. Acute pain can turn into chronic pain and can create long-term issues. Chronic pain is generally defined as any pain lasting three months or more. It often has a hard time responding to pain medications or other treatments and can cause additional problems for a cancer patient including depression and anxiety.
Some of these chronic pain conditions include:
- Nerve pain: This type of pain, also referred to as neuropathic pain, is caused by damage to the nerves or pressure on the spinal cord that changes the flow of nerve signals. It is most frequently described as tingling or burning throughout the affected part of the body. Nerves can be damaged in a number of ways including during surgery or other cancer treatments.
- Soft tissue pain: This is a form of chronic pain that can be difficult to identify. It is typically caused by damage to soft body tissues such as the kidneys. It will feel like cramping, aching, or throbbing. It can be caused by damage inflicted by the cancer itself or various forms of treatments.
- Bone-related pain: One of the most insidious aspects of cancer is the rate and way in which it spreads. When it reaches the bones it can cause extreme pain which feels like throbbing or a dull ache. Because of the nature of bone related cancer pain, it can be very difficult to treat and can quickly escalate.
- Phantom pain: Finally, one of the most mysterious forms of pain related to cancer surgeries is phantom pain. When a part of the body is removed to stop the spread of cancer, some patients continue to feel pain in the area of the body that is no longer there. It is believed this is a form of nerve pain but it can also be difficult to treat with conventional means.
Many of these pain conditions are caused not by the cancer itself but some of the invasive treatments that are used to remove or cure the cancer from the body. The most common treatments are chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, all of which carry their own risks of long-term damage to the body. Cancer patients often don’t receive the long term support they need to overcome these complications.
However, there are ways someone can help alleviate their own pain through whole body health. A holistic practice not only treats the body and the symptoms but also the mind and beyond to provide better long-term balance in a cancer patient. One of these methods is through exercise.
The benefits of exercise
According to the American Cancer Society, exercise may be the perfect addition to traditional cancer treatment. Early medical instincts to instruct a cancer patient to rest appear to have caused more long term-pain than suggesting exercise. A lack of physical activity will cause the body to lose much of its natural function and range of motion. Today, doctors are encouraging cancer patients to exercise as regularly as possible during cancer treatment.
This suggestion is backed up by several studies including this one conducted by the University of Pennsylvania in September of this year. Their research indicates that chemotherapy in conjunction with exercise reduces tumor sizes more than in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy alone.
From lead researcher, associate professor Joseph Libonati:
“People don’t take a drug and then sit down all day. Something as simple as moving affects how drugs are metabolized. We’re only just beginning to understand the complexities.”
There are many benefits of exercise for cancer patients that have been observed over the years. A patient may be able to keep or even improve their own physical abilities. They will improve their balance which will reduce the risk of falling or further injuries, such as broken bones. The muscles will not waste away due to inactivity. Exercise for cancer patients also reduces the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, blood clots, and poor circulation. Exercise also has additional benefits of allowing cancer patients to feel more independent. It improves self-esteem, and lowers the risk of anxiety or depression. It can also help control weight and lessen nausea as well as fatigue. Exercise can improve the overall quality of life for cancer patients.
Suggestions for safe exercises
Of course, just because exercise is good for cancer patients doesn’t mean that there aren’t risks. It is important to remain safe while exercising. Talk first with your doctor about the most appropriate workout plan for you.
Here are some suggestions for safer exercises:
- Walking or biking in your neighborhood
- Swimming or water aerobics
- Safe weight and strength training
Have you had experience with exercise while recovering from cancer treatment? What was your experience?
Image by Jean Henrique Wichinoski via Flickr