As a chiropractor, I see patients undergoing chemo, radiation, and surgery and the intense toll it takes on the body. A study published in Current Oncology showed nearly 85% of people with cancer use complementary alternative medicine therapies to help deal with symptoms and side effects of treatment—and chiropractic care for cancer is one of the most popular of those therapies. Here’s what to know if you’re going through cancer and how the right chiropractor can help you deal with what you’re experiencing.
What’s chiropractic care’s role in cancer treatment?
In my office, I do see long-time patients who come in and either have been or are later diagnosed with breast or other types of cancer. It is such a struggle for these women, and they’re going through a time of incredible stress and physical and emotional pain, whether from cancer or the treatment. Chiropractic care for cancer focuses on the nervous system and the musculoskeletal system. Many times, we can restore communication in the body, calm the nervous system and stress response, and relieve a lot of pain and discomfort.
Because of the medications taken during cancer and time spent bed-ridden or not as mobile as usual, your muscles and ligaments get incredibly tight. Adjustments can help bring more mobility to the joints. We also do manual soft-tissue therapy. Manual soft-tissue therapy reduces tension and compression in the body and can bring a lot of relief.
Another thing is: even more so than tightness, many patients with cancer experience muscle-wasting very quickly. You might think it would take a few weeks to see a reduction in muscle. But sometimes, this can happen in matter of days. This is because there are three things the brain—and therefore, the nervous system needs: nutrients, oxygen, and everyday movement. Every cell also has a nerve ending, which means your cells need things too. Without the force of gravity on us as much, cells aren’t getting everyday movement, and that affects the body and overall sense of wellbeing. Chiropractic care for cancer is one way to help make sure the neuropathways between the brain and the body are talking, functioning correctly, and getting what they need.
Can I have a chiropractic manipulation on a day I receive chemo?
Yes. Our main goal with chiropractic care (including for cancer) is to enhance the connection between the body and brain. This connection allows the body to better process what’s going on, and it’s possible it may help it better process the chemo, too.
Always talk with your oncologist about what’s right and okay for you to try. But one exception to chiropractic adjustments during cancer would be any type of spinal or bone cancers. Also, if there are signs of instability and infection, you shouldn’t have an adjustment (whether you have cancer or not). In these instances, you can still seek complementary care, like craniosacral therapy and Reiki.
I’d like to try chiropractic care for cancer, but I just had a mastectomy
If you have had a recent mastectomy, you can still get an adjustment. Many women actually want to come to the office soon after surgery because they’ve been less mobile, their bodies hurt, and and they have a lot of discomfort. In these cases, there are a few options: we can do adjustments sitting and use a low velocity.
Women who’ve had a mastectomy who opt to not have reconstruction can really benefit from adjustments as well. Post-surgery, these muscles and tissues shrink. We see shortened pectoral muscles and back hunching as a result. Also, women who have had reconstruction may have larger breasts than they’re used to carrying. That can cause postural changes that
Will chiropractic care for cancer make me feel more nauseous?
Everyone’s different, but generally no. If someone comes to me and is already feeling nauseous, we talk about it. Your chiropractor should be asking you questions and listening to your responses and making modifications based on that. For example, I usually would use a lower velocity adjustment in these situations. Or, the activator. Activators are safe, FDA-approved, and a device that lets us specifically control the strength of the adjustment.
What advice do you have for looking for a chiropractor while I have cancer?
Like not every patient is the same, not every chiropractor uses the same techniques. Some are more straight adjusters and other use a variety of adjustments. To anyone struggling with cancer and wanting to try chiropractic care, I would say to find a chiropractor who communicates well. It’s also helpful to find someone who is willing to step outside of the box and employ different methods based on your comfort level and how you’re feeling that day. Many people aren’t aware that it’s completely possible to be adjusted standing, sitting, or laying down.
You also need someone who you can speak up with. If something doesn’t feel good, be comfortable saying so. Don’t suffer through anything you’re not liking. Your chiropractor should be willing to adjust based on your feedback. I also think it’s a great idea to look for a chiropractor who offers other services that ease pain and reduce stress. I offer Reiki at my office, which is an energy practice. It helps calm the mind, facilitate healing, and improve stress, all of which cancer patients really need.
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