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Guest Blog: Leah Dalby talks Physiotherapy

 
 

Guest Blog: Leah Dalby talks Physiotherapy

 
 

We often hear stories of people being turned away from spas and beauty treatment centres because they have (or have had) cancer. This can be extremely upsetting for those involved. There is a lot of fear and misinformation about things like massage or physiotherapy for people with cancer, but the benefits of such complementary therapies in the relief of pain, anxiety and many of the side effects of cancer treatment are now well recognised.  Within the NHS there are many services on offer, but waiting lists can be long, and what happens after your treatment?

All over the UK there are organisations who are fully trained in treating those who are undergoing or recovering from treatment or looking to continue therapies once the services offered by the NHS have finished.

One such organisation is Lune Valley Physiotherapy based in the North of England and run by Physiotherapist Leah Dalby. Here she explains a bit more about what is involved and the benefits of physiotherapy for cancer patients:

“My aim is to provide the best physiotherapy service that I can to each person: integrating the learning and experience of thirty years with kindness and patience. I am indebted to and enormously thankful for the many people who have taught me much, sharing their lives and trusting me with their bodies with generous, humbling and inspiring honesty.

The majority of my work is with people who have or have had cancer – especially working with scarring, tightness and pain after operations and radiotherapy. I have a lot of experience of working with people recently diagnosed with cancer, after surgery, throughout recovery and also in palliative care, working to enable living as fully as possible until the end of life.

So what can you expect? An unhurried, thorough assessment is essential to establish what a person wants and needs from our time together.

Treatment (a treat meant for you) is often a combination of “hands on” work, movement, stretching, exercise and information if you want about your situation/surgery/anatomy/possible outcomes of physio.

I am very keen to see people who want to optimise their potential – however great or small that may be. Some people just need one or two sessions perhaps for reassurance and guidance, others may prefer ongoing treatment.  There is no obligation to book subsequent appointments after an initial assessment.

Movement, stretching and exercises can help with balance, stamina, function, strength and being able to trust and appreciate your body, which may be about to, or have undergone much significant treatment.

Flexibility and strength can help with pain relief, as stiffness and weak muscles can be sore. If you are breathless, the right exercise is important as “fit” muscle metabolises oxygen more efficiently.

It’s my job to try to find movements that are useful and that you can enjoy practicing. It can be fun as well as functional! I hope that people can find confidence and pleasure in their bodies.

Many of the people I work with have issues around communication, sensuous and sexual expression and continence. Physiotherapy can help in these area too. Sometimes, for example, understanding the anatomy, simple exercises, a change in strategy or a vaginal lubricant can make a big difference.

“Hands on” physio can include myofascial release (which I’ll explain a bit more about below), mobilisation of tight structures and massage can make an enormous difference to function, movement and pain relief as well as improving circulation, relaxation and feelings of pleasure and well-being.

Advice around breathing techniques and pacing of activity can be very helpful if you are breathless or struggling with fatigue (a very common problem).  Information about what has happened during previous cancer treatments can be very useful e.g. discussing how the anatomy of your body has been affected.

A rewarding part of each day is the opportunity to walk alongside someone on part of their journey.

A bit more information on myofascial release: during twelve years at St John’s Hospice, I started to learn how to work with scarring with South African physiotherapist, Willem Fourrie who visits to teach at the Christie Hospital. Subsequently, I have been extending my learning about fascia with James Earls and Tracey Kiernan. Establishing a new physio service within a breast team allowed me to study healing and scarring from pre-surgery, through initial healing and also reviewing healing up to many decades later.

Fascia is a connective tissue under the skin, around our muscles, in between the muscles and amongst our organs, nerves and blood vessels – it is found throughout the body.  It embraces the muscles enabling them to work efficiently and when we move, it allows structures to slip across one another, smoothly.

When we have an operation, are injured or have radiotherapy, the fascia can become scarred and get stuck – you may know someone with painful “adhesions” after surgery or a stiff shoulder after breast surgery.

The “hands on” technique that I use is effective on recent scars as well as those many decades old – it has been moving for me to work with women who have described themselves as “disfigured” by Caesarean Section or abdominal scars, sometimes many decades old.

Releasing tightness and restriction can relieve pain, improve movement, bowel function, breathing, swallowing, posture and body image. Many people regain a bit of “sparkle” in their faces after treatment – I suspect this is due to the systemic benefits of treatment coupled with attentive, directed treatment and the realisation that there is hope of change and improvement.”

Click here to find out more about Lune Valley Physiotherapy or click here to search for physiotherapy in your area. And if you would like to tell us about a service in your area, please get in touch via www.cancercaremap.org/feedback.

 

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