Spine Tumors: Pain Management & Rehabilitation

Spine tumors can cause a variety of debilitating symptoms such as pain, numbness, weakness, and loss of balance. These symptoms can interfere with your ability to perform everyday activities, such as getting in and out of bed, walking, bathing, and getting dressed. While some treatments, such as radiation therapy, can help to relieve these symptoms, you may need additional treatments, including pain medications, physical therapy, or assistive devices to alleviate pain and restore mobility during and after treatment.

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As an outpatient physical therapist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Sebi Varghese is at the forefront of developing creative new approaches to rehabilitation for cancer patients. Varghese and her team use a variety of methods to help patients restore range of motion, reduce pain, increase energy, and become active participants in their recovery. Taking part in someone's recovery — and hopefully opening up a new chapter in his or her life — is very satisfying, she says.

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Memorial Sloan Kettering has a dedicated team of rehabilitation medicine specialists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists who are experienced in helping people with spine tumors return to a normal level of activity during and after treatment. At our 15,000-square-foot state-of-the-art Sillerman Center for Rehabilitation, we can help you to achieve your individual goals – whether it is finding pain relief, increasing mobility, or improving other areas of function – and to maintain quality of life after treatment.

Learn about our rehabilitation and physical and occupational therapy services.

Rehabilitation Medicine

Our rehabilitation medicine specialists, also called physiatrists, collaborate with other members of your treatment team to relieve muscle, bone, and nerve pain. We also prescribe physical and occupational therapy that can help you to regain key functions and engage in activities of daily living.

First, a physiatrist performs a physical examination and other tests to evaluate pain and other symptoms. Our physiatrists sometimes use a diagnostic method called electromyography (EMG) to identify nerve and muscle disorders that can be caused by spine tumors, or may occur after spine surgery or radiation therapy. Information from these tests is used to determine the best therapeutic approach.

For some patients, steroid injections provide temporary relief of localized pain from muscle spasms that can occur after surgery or radiation therapy. Opioids are effective to help control more severe or chronic pain. However, because of their side effects, opioids are not appropriate for everyone.

Injections of Botox® (botulinum toxin), which temporarily stops muscle contractions, offer an effective alternative to opioid therapy. Botox also inhibits the release of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that are produced by nerve cells) that cause pain. Botox injections are usually well tolerated and are given on an outpatient basis every six to 12 weeks.

Physical and Occupational Therapy

Physical therapists at Memorial Sloan Kettering have expertise in helping patients to regain physical function following treatment for cancer in the spine. We use therapeutic exercise and neuromuscular training to strengthen your lower extremities, decrease pain, and improve your endurance and balance. These exercises can prevent falls and other injuries, and speed your recovery.

Our team also includes occupational therapists who can help you to resume everyday activities such as dressing, bathing, and eating. Using targeted exercises and providing education, our goal is to improve your quality of life by helping you to reach your maximum functional potential.