Soft tissue sarcoma

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Rehabilitation after treatment for soft tissue sarcoma

Rehabilitation is an important part of returning to the activities of daily living after soft tissue sarcoma treatment. Recovery is different for each person. It depends on the extent of the disease, the type of treatment and many other factors. People with soft tissue sarcoma may be concerned about the following:

  • muscle weakness
  • difficulty using an upper limb
  • difficulty with a lower limb that may cause problems with walking or balance
  • problems performing activities of daily living

Physical rehabilitation

Rehabilitation specialists, such as physical and occupational therapists, can help you recover from soft tissue sarcoma treatment. The rehabilitation specialists will usually meet with you before treatment to explain what will be involved after treatment.

Rehabilitation after surgery

Rehabilitation is needed after either limb-sparing surgery or amputation. Limb-sparing surgery is more complex than an amputation and physical rehabilitation after limb-sparing surgery will be different than rehabilitation after an amputation.

  • After limb-sparing surgery involving the leg, it could take a year for you to learn to walk again. Without rehabilitation, the spared limb may become useless.
  • After an amputation involving the leg, you will learn how to use the prosthesis. With proper physiotherapy, most people are walking again in 3–6 months.

The rehabilitation specialist will teach you exercises to help keep muscles around the site of surgery strong and the joints mobile. Physical therapy exercises that help maintain range of motion and strengthen the arms and legs are very important for people who have had surgery on a limb, especially after limb-sparing surgery or amputation. There may be some activity restrictions after surgery until the area is healed enough to allow weight-bearing exercises or gait training (training to walk again).

Some people may need a brace or splint to help support lower limbs. Some people need a cane, crutches or a walker to help them walk after leg surgery. Sometimes a sling, splint or brace is needed after upper limb surgery.

Rehabilitation after radiation therapy

People treated with radiation therapy for soft tissue sarcoma in a limb may have joint stiffness and decreased joint motion and muscle strength. It is important to keep using the joint as normally as possibly during and after treatment. Physical therapy helps prevent and minimize disabilities after radiation therapy to a limb. An exercise and range-of-motion program is often started early in the course of treatment.

Living with an artificial limb

An artificial limb is also called a prosthesis. It is used after amputation of an arm or leg. Rehabilitation specialists, such as physical and occupational therapists, can help you recover from limb amputation. They help you learn how to use and take care of the artificial limb, how to care for the stump and how to adapt to changes in daily activities.

A prosthetist is a healthcare professional specially trained to fit and make prostheses. They make each artificial limb specially for each person. The prosthetist may show you various prosthesis options. You may be measured for an artificial limb before or after surgery. The measurements make sure the prosthesis fits properly. Some people may have a temporary prosthesis until the wound has healed enough to allow a permanent prosthesis to be fitted. This may take up to 3 months. The prosthesis may need to be adjusted or refitted if you lose or gain weight or the stump changes in size.

Caring for a prosthesis and stump involves learning how to:

  • do exercises that improve muscle tone, strengthen the limb and maintain joint range of motion
  • bandage the stump after surgery to help reduce swelling and shape the stump
  • keep the stump clean and dry and the skin in good condition
  • check the stump daily for any signs of skin breakdown
  • use an elastic wrap or stump sock before putting on the prosthesis and to make sure it is cleaned frequently
  • put on the prosthesis and gradually increase the wearing time
  • use the new prosthesis

A prosthesis allows you to walk, run, play some sports and use the limb to perform activities of daily living. Artificial limbs can be very sophisticated, and some are specially designed for sports or swimming. It can take many months to learn how to use an artificial limb. Some people need to use mobility aids like a cane, crutches, walker or wheelchair until they learn to walk with a lower limb prosthesis. Many people with artificial limbs can return to their previous level of activity.

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