Cancer handbook: Physiotherapy

Cancer and cancer treatments can result in issues with strength, endurance, flexibility, coordination, balance and development and difficulty breathing.

Physiotherapists are a part of the team of experts who look after your child at The Children's Hospital at Westmead.  The physiotherapy team help reduce the side effects of cancer treatment. Physiotherapists assess your child and work with your child to help them:

  • move better in your home and the community
  • get into and out of cars
  • breathe more easily
  • become stronger and fitter
  • gross motor skills (walk, run, sit)
  • manage pain and improve quality of life.

What to expect in physiotherapy


Your child's specialist doctor or paediatrician can refer your child to physiotherapy if assessment and management is required.

The physiotherapist will then visit you on the ward if your child is an inpatient, or get in touch over the phone to arrange an outpatient appointment at a time that is suitable to you.

Phsyiotherapist does an assessment

Your child can expect to undergo a comprehensive assessment. This means that the physiotherapist will have a look at your child's strength, fitness, flexibility, coordination, balance and developmental skills and assess your child’s breathing and pain.

They also gather information about your child’s home and school environment, and their hobbies and interests.

Set goals and treatment plan

Physiotherapists then work with you and your child to set goals, They will then plan and  perform treatments to help your child get better.

The treatments are tailored to each individual. They can be modified to your child's medical condition to ensure that all treatments are safe and beneficial.

Treatment settings

Physiotherapists see your child on the ward or in the physiotherapy department treatment spaces, Monday to Friday between 8am and 5pm.

Sometimes they will see your child in the Oncology Treatment Centre or in the hydrotherapy pool, depending on your child's needs.

Preparing for treatment

When in hospital, it’s helpful if your child is dressed, has shoes on and is out of bed. This also helps to normalise their routine and encourage physical activity.

Supporting your child with treatment

You and your child may meet different physiotherapists at the hospital. We all work together to provide your child with the best possible care.

We may also ask you to support your child with their treatments to help them work towards their goals when they're feeling well enough to do so.

Importance of exercise and safety

While we recognise that cancer and cancer treatments can have complications, evidence shows that exercise is a safe and effective treatment in children with cancer

Side effects of spending long periods of time in bed during treatment

It's very important for children to remain physically active, because long periods of time in bed can result in weakness, tight muscles, poor balance, difficulties moving or walking around and decreased quality of life.

Being well enough for physiotherapy

The physiotherapists talk with the medical staff to ensure that treatments provided are safe and are in the best possible interests of the child. Physiotherapists have access to your child's medical notes and ensure they check test results prior to each session. The physiotherapists may ask you to encourage your child to perform exercises when they are feeling better to help them work towards their goals.

Accessing physiotherapy services

If you think your child would benefit from physiotherapy, talk to your child's doctor and they can make a referral to physiotherapy if it's appropriate. It’s important for physiotherapists to be involved sooner rather than later, because often early treatment can prevent problems from getting worse or become harder to treat.

Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) signs and symptoms

CIPN is a side effect of some chemotherapy medicine, such as vincristine, vinblastine, carboplatin, cisplatin and etoposide. CIPN does not occur in every child who is given chemotherapy medicine, but it is a common side effect.

Signs and symptoms can include:

  • ‘pins and needles’ sensation
  • pain
  • numbness
  • extra sensitivity to touch
  • weakness
  • difficulties with walking or balance
  • difficulties with hand skills.

Contact us

(02) 7825 3369, ask for the oncology physiotherapist

Outpatients building, level 2

Last updated Wednesday 26th June 2024