Physical therapists can be uniquely qualified to help cancer patients recover from a multitude of problems that often arise during and after cancer treatment. Loss of motion, pain, fatigue, balance problems, loss of function or mobility and lymphedema (swelling due to impairment of the lymph system, often as a result of cancer treatment) can all be improved by a well-trained PT.
Cancer is a very complex disease and requires a special understanding of the impact of medical treatment on a patient. The American Physical Therapy Association recognizes this and is currently developing a specialist certification program for physical therapists demonstrating advanced clinical knowledge, experience, and skills in oncology. This specialist certification will assist consumers as well as the health care community in identifying qualified physical therapists. A cancer patient will be able to choose to see a specialized PT for their cancer treatment, just like they now seek out an oncologist rather than a general practitioner.
Currently, consumers can find a certified lymphedema therapist (CLT) who has achieved an advanced level of knowledge and skill in the management of lymphedema. Certified lymphedema therapists with special training in manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) techniques have the initials CLT next to their professional designation. This designation is currently available to qualifying physical therapists, occupation therapists, nurses, and physicians, and massage therapists. This designation does not ensure that a CLT is equipped with the specialized clinical education and skills to effectively manage a multitude of other physical problems that often accompany a cancer related lymphedema diagnosis. That’s why the specialist certification in oncology is so important and will be awarded to PTs who demonstrate comprehension of rigid clinical and theoretical guidelines beginning in the spring of 2019.
This certification will raise the standards for physical therapists that seek to help manage oncology related ailments, and it will raise the bar for patient treatment and recovery as well. Certifications in your healthcare team are important! Identifying the right person with the right knowledge and experience for your healthcare issue is how we continue to fight and beat cancer!