Cancer Exercise Requires Individual Prescription
cancer exercise rehab
Marian Barnick

Marian Barnick

Registered Kinesiologist and Human Movement Specialist


cancer exercise rehab

Cancer Exercise Rehab is Unique for Each Patient

I was sitting on the sofa reviewing some research articles as I sometimes do with my morning coffee.  Besides the really bad ergonomic posture of doing this with a laptop (don’t tell my ergo clients!) I was feeling frustrated with the results I was seeing about stretching.

Cancer Exercise Needs an Individual Approach

The results were getting too specific – even for me!  These articles were stating that specific joint angles were required for best stretch results.


I know this is research but there is absolutely no way that this can correlate to proper exercise prescription for patient programming.  And from the patient’s perspective, how are they ever going to be able measure joint angles to get the best results.

Not Possible.


Research and Cancer Exercise

I look at research to find valid and reliable results to help me provide the best ways to support my patients with their goals.



So, when I look at things like stretching, I’m looking for research that helps me and my clients with information to support improvement and progression.  Working with cancer patients and survivors cancer exercise almost always starts with stretching to improve joint mobility and tissue mobilization.  So this is an important area to cover.


cancer exercise


Cancer Exercise Cannot be a Template

The issue I have when advice is so specific that it gives me ‘the best’ stretching angle for the pectoral muscles (which is a stretch most post surgical breast cancer patients need by the way) is simple.


Everyone is different.

And I know that’s a saying we’ve heard a million times but it’s true.  The anatomy labs at school certainly taught me this.


What you learn in the text books may be the ‘norm’ but anatomy labs confirm that there are a lot of differences and uniqueness in the human body.


So, when I start working with a patient, determining cancer exercise requirements,  I need to evaluate their abilities AND discover their uniqueness.

The evaluation tells me what they need in their program and discovering their individuality lets me know how we’re going to achieve it.


And there are always general ways to do this – just like in the text books – but the uniqueness of every individual means there are personal tweaks or insights that can make a stretch or a movement that much better for them.


You know how some days you can move into a stretch and it feels great – like it’s hitting just the right spot?  Well how come the next day it feels totally different?  Again, our uniqueness means that there are changes happening all the time.


cancer exercise


As a Cancer Movement Therapist, my job is not only to evaluate and prescribe exercise but to teach patients how to move through an exercise, like a pec muscle stretch, to know when it’s working and what to do if they’re not ‘feeling’ it. 

And more importantly, what to do if they’re feeling it too much!


That’s why I can’t imagine telling a patient to complete their pec stretch at 110 degrees of shoulder abduction because that’s what research said is the best angle. 


What if tomorrow when they reach 100 degrees they can’t move any further because of a bad night’s sleep? 


What if after a week they can’t feel the stretch at 110 degrees and should be moving to 115 degrees to get more stretch?

What if the patient is starting their program a few weeks after surgery and can’t even move their shoulder to 45 degrees let alone 110 degrees?


Hmmm…..that’s a lot of uniqueness – and that’s life.

Cancer Patients Require Specialized Rehab

Health professionals who specialize in cancer exercise understand that we have to know about the side effects and risk factors that come with cancer and cancer treatment.  A ‘regular’ exercise program won’t work for most cancer patients and can be extremely harmful to many.


And just as important is understanding each patient’s medical history.  There could be other conditions, such as heart disease, that are extremely important to consider when developing an exercise program.


Relating back to the pec stretching – a patient may have been diagnosed and started cancer treatment at the same time as having frozen shoulder or right after having a shoulder surgery.  This has to be a consideration when developing a cancer exercise program.


The best things about my job is the people I am so fortunate to work with.  Each and every one is unique and they bring that special something with them when they step into the clinic.


That’s the excitement for me.  I get to discover how to help each patient and share in their ‘special something’ so I can make sure their program is exactly what they need.


Cancer patients and survivors who want to exercise need a program that’s created just for them.  This keeps you safe, makes sure you have attainable goals, and gets you moving in the way that’s best for you.


So book an assessment with a Cancer Movement Therapist and take the first steps to all the benefits of exercise.

Need some good information on exercise?  Check out this link.



P.S.  And make sure your therapist is a Regulated Health Care Professional.  You need that education and experience on your team.

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