When you’re fighting cancer-related pain the last thing you probably want to think about is exercising. But recent findings suggest physical activity can actually help reduce pain, ease fatigue and improve your overall quality of life.
A 2012 review of 56 research studies investigated the effect of exercise on 4,826 cancer survivors undergoing treatment. It found those who took part in physical activity — walking, strength training, resistance training, cycling, qigong, tai chi or yoga — reported less pain at an average 12-week followup than those who didn’t.
The review, published online Aug. 15, 2012 by the Cochrane Collaboration, pointed to exercise having multiple benefits for pain management.
Exercise helped improved body image, self-esteem, emotional well-being, sexuality and social function, according to the study.
It also helped to reduce stress, sleep disturbance and anxiety. It boosted immune systems, improved joint flexibility and enhanced energy and mood.
Exercise helps to focus your attention on external activities and away from your pain. It gets you out of the house and structures your time around a healthy activity — a bona fide win-win.
Most cancer-related pain is the result of a tumor pressing on bone, nerves or organs, according to MD Anderson Center. “For example, a small tumor located near a nerve or the spinal cord may be very painful, while a larger tumor elsewhere may not cause discomfort,” its website reported.
In contrast, people with early stage cancer can experience more musculoskeletal pain, typically the result of compensating for pain following surgery or radiation in the way they perform daily tasks, such as walking.
People with metastatic cancer often experience bone pain caused by metastases, Andrea L. Cheville, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who conducts research on cancer pain tells Cancer Today.
Whatever is causing the pain, a typical response is to try and deal with it by moving less and that has the potential to make it worse, Cheville said in the article. “As a result, when [you] do move, it may cause more discomfort.”