Targeted Exercise Improves Function, Lessens Pain in Head and Neck Cancer Survivors

Progressive resistance exercise training following surgery helps reduce upper extremity pain and dysfunction in certain head and neck cancer survivors, according to Canadian researchers.

“The trial,” lead investigator Dr. Margaret L McNeely told Reuters Health, “demonstrates important improvements from progressive resistance exercise training on shoulder pain and disability, upper extremity strength and movement in post-neck-dissection head and neck cancer survivors.”

In the July 1st issue of Cancer, Dr. McNeely of the University of Alberta, Edmonton and colleagues observe that shoulder pain and disability are well known complications of surgery in such patients.

In an earlier pilot study, the researchers found that progressive resistance exercise appeared to be beneficial, and in the current study they randomized 52 patients to the progressive approach or to a standardized therapeutic exercise protocol.

At 12 weeks, intention-to-treat analysis showed that patient-rated disability and pain overall fell by 14.6 points in the progressive group compared to 4.8 in the standard group, a significant difference after adjustment.

There were also significantly greater improvements in upper extremity strength and endurance in the progressive group than in the standard group. In addition, there was a trend towards reduced neck-dissection impairment and fatigue, and improved quality of life.

Given these encouraging results, Dr. McNeely concluded that “the addition of progressive resistance exercise training to standard physical therapy should be considered in the rehabilitation of head and neck cancer survivors.”

Cancer 2008;113:214-222.

Reviewed by Ramaz Mitaishvili, MD

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