Occupational Therapy and the ReVital Cancer Rehabilitation Program

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Posted on 4/19/2018 by Inessa Soden, O.T., CHT

 

Occupational therapy has been an established profession for more than 100 years. Yet, to this day, many people, and even medical professionals, are confused about what this field has to offer. It could be described as one of the disciplines in a rehabilitation team, focusing on restoring people’s ability to perform normal daily activities and resume valued roles in life. Thus, occupational therapy could be applied in general public health and the rehabilitation of many medical diseases.

Cancer diagnosis and treatment is a devastating life event that throws unexpected hurdles on the road of survivorship. Cancer patients may experience:

Pain
Weakness and fatigue
Stiffness in joints
Numbness and altered sensation in extremities
Difficulty remembering and performing daily activities
Some of these difficulties occur at the time of diagnosis, while others might become apparent during treatment and long after.

Medicine has been making great strides in treating and curing some cancers and better prognoses for life expectancy. There are currently more than 15 million cancer survivors in the United States, and the projected number is more than 20 million in the next 10 years. However, the courageous victory of beating the disease often comes with paying the price of temporary, residual or lasting side effects from the cancer treatment. Yet, after going through such a hard battle one doesn’t have to succumb to suffering or giving up so many of one’s previously enjoyed activities.

Life might be changed after experiencing cancer, but that means that one needs to learn to adjust and do things differently. This is where occupational therapy and our ReVital Cancer Rehabilitation program can improve quality of life.

ReVitalFor example, pain could be addressed by multiple manual therapy techniques and stretches, sometimes utilizing the application of special tools such as instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization or cupping. Different physical agent modalities, such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and physiological techniques, like deep breathing and sensory reeducation, could be beneficial. Based on the cause of pain, the therapist will choose an appropriate course of treatment.

In cases of weakness and fatigue, an occupational therapist will develop an individualized program focusing on activities to build up strength and eliminate unnecessary strain on the body. The program may consist of exercises and activities as well as learning energy conservation principles and use of adaptations and adaptive techniques. In addition, each person will get an individualized home exercise program that is modified based upon progress.

For altered sensation, such as pins-and-needles, burning or numbness, an occupational therapist can help to control symptoms, which may be temporary due to swelling or nerve compression. The therapist may recommend and fabricate a custom orthosis, incorporate manual therapy to release the bound neve and design an individualized exercise plan. Other modalities, such as therapeutic taping, may be performed as necessary.

Sometimes unexpected difficulties arise in a battle with cancer. Survivors may experience difficulties focusing on a task, forgetting important information or have trouble multitasking everyday schedules. This may become a safety issue or cause severe emotional distress. In this case, a trained occupational therapist will help to set priorities and come up with suggestions and adaptations in order for the person to be as safe and independent as possible.

Teaching family members how they can help their loved ones to cope is part of the education that an occupational therapist provides. Learning how to access some local and national resources, finding support groups and leisure/recreation activities may also be of benefit.

These are just few examples of what occupational therapy can offer to ease the burden on a cancer survivor and promote a happier, healthier life. Working in a close relationship with a team of doctors, nurses, physical/speech therapists and local communities to help establish a strong support system so one does not need to go through this journey alone.

Consultation with your local occupational therapist trained in the ReVital Cancer Rehabilitation program could be requested at any time, be it right after the diagnosis, prior to surgery or during or after cancer treatment throughout the survivor’s lifespan.

By: Inessa Soden, O.T., CHT. Inessa has been a NovaCare Rehabilitation team member in South New Jersey since 2011. She treats patients of varying diagnoses, including orthopaedics and neurological and oncologic conditions. She focuses on building an individualized treatment plan for each of her patients to ensure they achieve their best level of independent participation in every day roles and activities.