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Oncology Rehabilitation

oncology rehabilitation
"Our goal for our patients is to help them reach their personal goals of function and safety while partnering with our staff and their loved ones to improve their life quality."

-Karen Gilbert, PT, LLCC, Director of Rehabilitation Services

Our department

The rehabilitation therapists at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) help you build strength and endurance, regain independence, reduce stress and maintain the energy you need to participate in activities that are important to you.

Our oncology rehabilitation team includes licensed physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech and language pathologists.

Rehabilitation therapies

Throughout your cancer treatment, rehabilitation therapies can help you maintain your quality of life in several ways:

Physical therapy

As part of your cancer treatment, our physical therapists can help you design an individualized exercise program that combines range-of-motion training with light resistance exercises. These therapeutic exercises aim to minimize your fatigue and optimize your physical function, safety and well-being.

Occupational therapy

Our occupational therapists can help you with daily living activities that are important to your routine and quality of life, such as dressing, showering and eating.

Speech and language pathology

Many cancer patients benefit from speech and language pathology. Therapists address problems such as dry mouth, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), loss of voice and cognitive changes that can result from cancer treatment.

Massage therapy

Our massage therapists can help reduce your cancer-related pain and improve your quality of life during your treatment.


This painless, non-invasive form of oncology rehabilitation, which involves stimulation of the auricle of the external ear, can help alleviate some of the side effects of cancer treatments, such as pain, nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, and balance and coordination problems.


This method aims to improve peripheral neuropathy, a condition that causes pain, numbness, tingling, or loss of reflexes in different parts of the body. The technique involves an electronic stimulation to the area of peripheral neuropathy, such as the hands or feet, to increase tactile sensory and awareness.

Lymphedema prevention and treatment

Lymphedema is a condition in which excess fluid collects in tissue and causes swelling. Our oncology rehabilitation team combines gentle range-of-motion exercises and massage to either prevent lymphedema, or reduce the swelling associated with this condition. For some patients, we may also recommend surgical options for the treatment of lymphedema after non-surgical therapeutic approaches have been exhausted.

Additional services/programs

CTCA® offers a wide range of additional services/programs to promote a faster and more complete recovery for cancer patients receiving radiation therapy, surgery or drug-based treatments, including:

  • Programs to address incontinence
  • Weight management/movement program
  • Support for fatigue and sleep disturbances
  • Prehabilitation to prepare your body for cancer before treatment

The oncology rehabilitation team at Southwestern

National Director of Oncology Rehabilitation Karen Gilbert leads the oncology rehabilitation team at CTCA at Southwestern Regional Medical Center (Southwestern). The department is staffed with an integrated team of caring and experienced physical therapists (PTs), occupational therapists (OTs), speech and language pathologists and massage therapists.

"Our goal for our patients is to help them reach their personal goals of function and safety while partnering with our staff and their loved ones to improve their life quality,” says Gilbert.

"Keeping fit and functional while receiving cancer treatment is a multi-faceted task that realizes the best outcomes by focusing on the entire physiological, psychosocial and spiritual systems of our patients," she adds.

Additional programs at Southwestern

Motion for Life

The Motion for Life Program consists of a patient-specific physical regimen that incorporates therapeutic activities to help you maintain the energy you need to participate in activities that are important to you.

“Patients desire to continue those activities that they feel give their lives meaning and that give them a since of autonomy and health," says Gilbert. "They want to be self-sufficient and continue making informed decisions concerning their health care."

Interactive metronome

Using headphones and special hand and foot sensors, interactive metronome is a simple series of computer-generated “sounds” and feedback to measure a rhythmic beat and response to the millisecond. The goal is to increase concentration and improve balance, function, and cognition in a few short minutes and a few treatment sessions.

Massage therapies

The following are some of the massage therapy options available at Southwestern:

  • Traditional massage – A manual technique which aims to promote relaxation, reduce pain, enhance immune response, accelerate wound healing, reduce edema, and provide an overall sense of well being.
  • Stone therapy – A massage technique in which warmed stones are placed on points on the body and used as massage tools to promote deep muscle and tissue relaxation, alleviate stress, release toxins, relieve pain, and improve circulation.
  • Myofascial release – A form of bodywork that uses long stretching strokes to rebalance the body by releasing tension in the fascia/connective tissue. This technique may help to increase range of motion, improve circulation, reduce stiffness, decrease pain and tension, rejuvenate and free muscle tissue, and improve lymphatic flow.
  • Soft tissue manipulation with passive stretching – A technique in which the manual therapist begins on the opposite side and creates a range of motion to discover any restrictions, then moves to the aggravated site and uses soft palpation to relieve the spasm. This may help to increase range of motion, improve circulation, reduce stiffness, and decrease pain and tension.
  • Aromatherapy – Uses essential oils, which are inhaled and massaged (in a diluted form) into the skin. This technique aims to treat a variety of disorders, such as stress and anxiety, as well as a wide range of other physical ailments. For instance, aromatherapy may help to reduce hypertension, treat skin conditions (e.g., burns), reduce chronic pain and muscle aches, aid in digestion, and treat respiratory infections.
  • Effleurage – A smooth, gliding stroke, generally used in a Swedish massage, which uses both hands to relax soft tissue. This may help to promote relaxation, improve breathing, reduce pain, enhance immune response, accelerate wound healing, reduce edema, and provide a sense of well being.
  • Friction – The deepest of Swedish massage strokes, this technique involves deep, circular movements applied to soft tissue, causing the underlying layers of tissue to rub against each other and increase blood flow to the massaged area. This method may help to break down scar tissue, increase circulation, decrease scar tissue, and accelerate the healing of wounds and fractures.
  • Trigger point therapy – A method that applies concentrated finger pressure to trigger points to break cycles of pain and dysfunction. This technique may help to reduce stiffness, relieve pain, and increase range of motion, flexibility, and circulation.
  • Acupressure – This method involves applying pressure to points on the body, such as the face and wrist, to relieve symptoms like stomach discomfort, pain and tingling, nausea, and headaches. For example, the therapist may press directly under the nostrils to relieve hamstring pain, the wrist to alleviate nausea, and hill of the hand to relieve headaches.
  • Reflexology – A technique applied to the feet and hands to promote healing and to stimulate the body’s internal organs and muscle systems. This technique may help to release tension and congestion, improve circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids, increase energy, normalize body functions, increase oxygen flow, and improve immune function.
  • Reiki – A form of energy healing that is used to reduce stress, improve sleep, decrease depression and fear, and increase energy, peace and feelings of well being.
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