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Exercise Helps Ease Joint Pain in Cancer Survivors

Joint pain or joint stiffness (arthralgia) is a common side effect of many types of cancer treatment. According to issue 10.18, for some survivors of breast cancer, treatment to prevent cancer recurrence such as aromatase inhibitors lead to joint pain so severe that the survivors choose to stop taking the drug.

Exercise interventions to improve continuation of and adherence to hormonal therapy may be critical to improve breast cancer survival. Exercise is associated with a 30 percent improvement in joint pain and stiffness associated with aromatase inhibitors. Aromatase inhibitors are typically prescribed for at least 5 years to help prevent breast cancer recurrence. Exercise's beneficial effects includes weight control, mood and general well-being.

Moving Through Pain

Research shows that exercise has been shown to improve joint pain. The majority of cancer survivors are capable of some form of exercise at the levels recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for promoting health and preventing disease in healthy adults or older adults. Many of the women in the study were concerned about exercise as they thought they would increase their joint pain, but after a few months they were physically stronger, activities of daily living were easier, and they had less pain.

For cancer survivors that experience chemo therapy side effects such as peripheral neuropathy or numbness/loss of sensation in their feet that cause balance problems can also expect benefits in balance and mobility when balance exercises are included in their exercise program that target the specific balance problem..

Safe Exercise Guidelines

The ACSM Guide to Exercise and Cancer Survivorship recommends that if there is an increase in fatigue or a worsening of any acute or persistent negative side effects of treatment, the exercise dose should be reduced by modifying intensity, session duration, session frequency, or all. Decreasing the intensity and duration rather than frequency is a better option, because this will promote exercise compliance.

Wellness Goal as a Cancer Survivor

Each cancer survivor will have his or her own wellness goal, including expereincing less pain, the exercise prescription should match these goals which allows the fitness professional to design an exercise program to prepare the person to physiologically to achieve that goal.

Monitor Exercise Response

As a cancer survivor and as their fitness professional/personal trainer, it is important to monitor and keep track of exercise response, joint pain can occur as a result of bone metastatic, a new onset of joint pain should be investigated before continuing exercise.

A key indication that medical intervention is necessary are the following signs:

  • unusual tiredness or weakness

  • Fever or infection

  • Difficulty maintaining weight, severe diarrhea, or vomiting

  • Leg pain or cramps, unusual joint pain or bruising

  • Sudden onset of nausea during exercise

  • Irregular heartbeat, palpitations or chest pain

  • Flare of lymphedema symptoms

  • Change in the appearance or feel of the cancer site

  • Lump in breast or groin, changes in skin color or texture

  • Significant changes in coordination, vision, hearing

Avoid doing too much

When you are participating in exercise during active cancer treatment, to monitor for overtraining. When the following symptoms occur, it is important to reduce exercise dose until symptoms are reversed. If these signs do not reserve to seek medical evaluation.

Signs of overtraining are:

  • Increased fatigue

  • Insomnia

  • Increased irritability

  • Increased heart rate at a given intensity

  • Poor exercise performance

  • Weight loss

  • Depression or loss of enthusiasm

  • Excessive muscle soreness

  • Headaches, dehydration or both

Fitness Professionals can develop an individualized exercise plan or personal training program that will minimize the risks while maximizing the benefits of exercise.

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