Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy for Head and Neck Cancer 

Physiotherapists and occupational therapists will work closely together to assist you in returning to independence following your treatment.

Physiotherapists help people affected by injury, illness or disability through movement and exercise, manual therapy, education and advice. They maintain health for people of all ages and will help you to manage pain and prevent further disease. They will help to help you in your recovery, enabling you to stay in work and to remain independent for as long as possible.

Occupational therapy takes a whole-person approach to both mental and physical health and wellbeing, enabling you to achieve your full potential. Occupational therapy provides practical support to enable your recovery and overcome any barriers that prevent you from doing the activities (occupations) that matter to you. This helps to increase your independence and satisfaction in all aspects of life. This could be essential day-to-day tasks such as self-care, work or leisure.

Following most major head and neck surgeries you will meet a physiotherapist on the Post-anaesthetic Care Unit or on the ward the day after your operation. The physiotherapist will have three main roles:

  • Respiratory assessment

    To provide you with skills and techniques to keep your lungs clear following your surgery. This will help to reduce the risk of post-operative chest infections. If you have had a tracheostomy as part of your surgery, management of this will be part of the Physiotherapist’s role.

  • Functional assessment

    As soon as possible after your treatment or surgery the physiotherapist will assess your walking and movements to assist you with returning to all your normal activities of daily living. Keeping active will also help to prevent chest infections and blood clots and make sure your muscles are strong and working properly. This assessment will ensure that you are able to complete all activities that you require to return home as soon as you are well enough.

  • Muskulo-skeletal assessment

    Once any drains have been removed the physiotherapist will assess your neck and shoulder movement. They will provide you with an exercise programme to increase your strength to ensure that your movement recovers as much as possible. The physiotherapist may also refer you on to your local physiotherapy service for you to attend as an outpatient after you have gone home.

Following your surgery you may require an assessment by the occupational therapist. This will address any concerns about your ability to manage your normal activities at home. They will perform an assessment and provide you with advice and information. They may also provide some equipment and a referral to other services if required.