Ask the Expert: Importance of Physical Strength

How can physical strength help a brain tumour patient?

Physical fitness plays an important role in everyone’s life, and is vital for brain tumour patients as well. Completing exercise is important to your overall health to keep your muscles and body systems strong. Exercise can consist of gym activities but also involves those day-to-day tasks like getting dressed, walking to the bathroom or taking a stroll around the block. Being active benefits your physical health by making you stronger. It can also boost your psychological health by helping you feel involved and engaged by being able to do many tasks on your own or with minimal help from others.

Who can help?

The roles of an occupational therapist (OT) and physiotherapist (PT) are distinct though connected to each other. As an individual diagnosed with a brain tumour, you may see each health care professional individually, or at times together.

An OT helps assess how you are moving and thinking in order to find ways to safely accomplish the activities you want to do each day. OTs will also help your family understand how to support your independence within these tasks, as much as possible. If you are having difficulty putting movements together or understanding directions, an OT can assist in helping you learn ways to overcome these obstacles. The overarching goal in working with an OT is to have you return to meaningful activity and everyday life as soon as possible.

Similarly, a PT will assess how you are moving and completing your day-to-day activities. However, a PT will also take a closer look at how you are walking and your balance. They may provide exercises that you can do at home or at the gym in order to keep you as active as possible. In working with a PT, their aim is that you are able to continue to do what you enjoy doing safely and to your best ability.

Exercise and Brain Tumours

Modifications to exercise
If you are having difficulty doing what you used to do, an OT and/or PT can assist you. They can help you modify your activities by changing the amount of activity you do or providing aids that can change the activity so that it is easier to complete. For example, using a walker can help steady your balance so that you can walk more independently. Using a sock aid can help you dress more independently even if you are having difficulty sitting or bending, are feeling weak or having difficulty lifting your legs.

One of the most helpful strategies to use during any phase of your diagnosis, treatment and recovery is to consider energy conservation strategies. You can use these to compensate for muscle weakness, cognitive changes and/or overall body fatigue. Energy conservation includes: pacing, taking rest breaks, prioritizing and delegating activities that are less important to you, listening to your body, and gradual addition of new activity daily. Using these strategies will help you do as much as you can each day with less frustration. The goal is to find exercise/activities that you are motivated to do every day or as much as your energy allows.

How is physical fitness important to recovery?

Whether you have a malignant or non-malignant brain tumour, you can benefit from physical activity. Physical exercise has been shown to :

  • reduce stress and improve your mood
  • boost your energy
  • stimulate your appetite
  • reduce side effects like nausea, fatigue and constipation
  • help you sleep
  • help you regain your strength during recovery

Important: Prior to engaging in any physical activity program it is important that you speak to your health care team. They will be able to address your specific needs and provide guidance regarding any restrictions, contraindications and modifications required.

Thank you to Jameela Lencucha, Occupational Therapist (MScOT), Krembil Neurosciences, Toronto Western Hospital, University Health Network and to Nathalie Topdjian, Physiotherapist, BScPT, MPA, Krembil Neurosciences, Toronto Western Hospital, University Health Network for providing this important information.

Jameela Lencucha works at the Toronto Western Hospital on the in-patient Neurosurgical unit. As part of a multidisciplinary team, her role is to educate and provide recommendations to patients and their families about physical, functional and cognitive challenges in order to maximize their abilities after brain surgery. She is involved in supporting patients to return safely to the community or to assist them in transitioning to rehabilitation after discharge from hospital. Her previous experience includes work as the rehabilitation consultant for at the Gerry and Nancy Pencer Brain Tumor Centre at Princess Margaret Hospital. Jameela has experience in group facilitation, relaxation therapy, cognitive and functional assessment with patients who have a brain tumor.

Nathalie Topdjian works on the Neurosurgical and Neurology Unit at the Toronto Western Hospital. Working closely with a multidisciplinary team she assesses and treats patients in order to optimize their mobility, balance, function and independence. By incorporating patient centred care she also assists with discharge planning to ensure that patients are discharged home safely or to rehabilitation centres. Nathalie has been working clinically in neurosciences for 15 years and brings together her past experience of outpatient and inpatient physiotherapy.

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