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Rehabilitation / Therapy

Rehabilitation therapy—including physical, occupational and speech therapy—often helps relieve common symptoms associated with cancer treatment, such as pain, fatigue, emotional distress, lack of joint motion and weakness. These side effects do not have to be debilitating. Through individualized activity programs, education and modalities, our goal is to empower you (the patient) to remain active, positive and comfortable during and after your fight against cancer.

Rehabilitation therapy helps cancer patients with:

  • Fatigue management and energy conservation.
  • Individualized exercise programs to maximize your strength without causing you increased cancer-related fatigue.
  • Improvement in reasoning, problem solving and memory ("chemo brain").
  • Improvement in your joint motion and flexibility.
  • Improvement in your endurance to allow tolerance of activity.
  • Improved balance and reduced dizziness.
  • Pain management.
  • Treatment for speech and swallowing problems.
  • Treatment in scar tissue management.
  • Improvement of swelling in arms and legs following surgery or other cancer treatments.
  • Adaptive strategies for daily activities.
  • Treatment of arm and leg numbness and tingling.
  • Improvement in bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunction.
  • Education about optimizing your physical function in preparation for future cancer treatments.

Community programs

We offer two specific programs that benefit cancer patients.

Be Strong - Activity Class

The Be Strong Activity Class is free and open to all cancer survivors - including newly diagnosed patients. Class is taught by certified instructors and many participants enjoy meeting up for lunch after class to build a supporting atmosphere.

Be Strong Information (PDF)

Class schedule:
10:30 to 11:30 a.m.
Trinity United Methodist Church
Corner or Broadway & Main - Downtown Madison

Activities include: bouncing balls, stretching with elastic bands, posture practice, acupressure, Tai Chi, deep breathing, group discussions.

Making Waves: Warm Water Exercise

Making Waves: Warm Water Exercise provides resistance while allowing participants to raise their heart rate for an aerobic benefit. Classes generally run 60 minutes - participating at your own pace. Cancer patients specifically benefit from improved range of motion in joints, muscular strength, core development and balance. The class is led by a licensed therapist who can help you progress appropriately.

For the latest class information, call the Norton KDH Rehabilitation Center at 812.801.0545.

Exercise after breast surgery

Exercising after a mastectomy will help to ease muscle tightness in your arms, neck or shoulders. It will also improve recovery time. Most patients will begin exercising within a few days after surgery. Your nurse will be the first person to show you what exercises to do—beginning with a few simple movements.

Exercises in bed

Put your arm at your side and:

  1. Raise your arm straight up and back, trying to touch the headboard.
  2. Clasp your hands behind your head and push your elbows into the mattress.

Exercises while standing or sitting

Raise your shoulders and:

  1. Rotate them forward, down and back in a circular motion to loosen your chest, shoulder and upper back muscles.
  2. Rotate your chin to the left and right; tilt your head sideways.
  3. Squeeze a tennis ball in your hand.
  4. With your arm raised, clench and unclench your fist.


Sometimes after surgery, a patient may develop swelling of the arm on the side of the mastectomy. This condition is referred to as lymphedema. It is caused by the loss of the underarm lymph nodes and their connecting vessels. When lymph nodes are removed, circulation can be slowed, making it difficult for your body to fight infection and tougher for your body to remove fluid (swelling) from the area.

Here are some additional tips to assist you.

Dressing and personal hygiene

  • Use an electric razor with a narrow head for underarm shaving, reducing the risk of nicks or scratches.
  • Use your own nail clippers.
  • Never cut cuticles; use hand cream or lotions to keep skin moist.
  • Wear watches or jewelry loosely (if at all) on the operative side.
  • Avoid elastic cuffs on blouses or nightgowns.
  • While your body is healing, wear your "Softee" undergarment to provide comfort.
  • Ask your doctor when it is appropriate for you to shop for a permanent breast form.

When working in the house

  • Avoid harsh chemicals and abrasive compounds.
  • Wear gloves when using strong detergents or washing dishes.
  • Use a thimble when sewing.
  • Use your unaffected arm to reach into a hot oven.

When working or playing outside

  • Wear sunscreen to avoid sunburn.
  • When gardening, wear protective gloves.
  • Use insect repellent to avoid bites and stings.
  • Carry heavy packages or handbags with the unaffected arm.
  • Wash cuts promptly; treat them with antibacterial medication and cover with a sterile dressing.
  • Check your affected arm for redness, soreness, swelling or other signs of infection. Contact your provider if these symptoms occur.

Remember to use these precautions for the rest of your life. Whenever possible, have all injections, vaccinations, blood samples and blood pressure exams using your unaffected arm, and promptly call your provider if your arm ever becomes red or swollen or feels hot.

A variety of studies have concluded that physical activity and exercise benefit cancer patients, from reduced symptoms, to improved quality of life, to improved survival rates. If you have questions, contact the Norton KDH Rehabilitation Center at 812.801.0545.

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