Head and neck cancer can affect your ability to move and perform daily activities. A physical therapist (PT) is a health care professional that diagnoses and treats patients with medical problems that limit their ability to do their usual activities. A PT evaluates you and develops a plan of care to help you meet your recovery goals. These might include increasing your ability to move, reducing pain, restoring function and preventing disability.
Why would you need a physical therapist?
The reasons include any of the following:
- If you have limitations in moving your head or neck (limited range of motion)
- If you have weakness or pain in your neck, shoulders, or arms
- If you have general deconditioning following cancer treatment
- If you have swelling in your face or neck
- If you have a change in your head or neck posture
- If you notice problems with your balance or feel you are at risk to fall
- If you have a constricted feeling or limitation in movement from your scars
What does the physical therapist do?
A physical therapist will:
- Teach you adaptations so you can carry out your daily living activities at home
- Treat you for head or neck swelling using manual therapy, compression, and exercise
- Help you increase your ability to move your head and neck through manual techniques, stretching, and home exercise programs
- Help you to strengthen your neck, shoulders, and arms by prescribing exercise programs for your specific problem
- Educate you about the benefits of general exercise and help you attain your conditioning goals
When might you expect to see a physical therapist?
- If your physician notices that you have a problem with your neck or shoulders, he or she may recommend that you see a physical therapist before surgery.
- Physical therapists work with you while you are an in-patient to help you get up and move, so you can return home safely as soon as possible.
- You may have a scheduled appointment once your surgery is over, and before, during, or after radiation therapy.
- Your physical therapist and speech therapist often work closely together to help you recover neck mobility, swallowing, and speech.
Self-monitoring: when to call your physician to request a PT referral
You should call for a referral to a physical therapist if you:
- Notice a decrease in movement of your head or neck
- Notice a gradual increase in swelling in your face or neck
- Notice gradual weakness in your neck, shoulders, or arms
- Are having difficulty with balance
- Have decreased general conditioning