Rehabilitation Therapy


MSK therapists are highly trained in treating problems during and after cancer treatment. You may need therapy throughout your cancer treatment journey. Physical therapy and occupational therapy services are available while you’re in the hospital, and after treatment.

You can ask your cancer doctor to make a referral for our services:

  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Lymphedema therapy
  • Pediatric therapy

Physical Therapy

Our physical therapists are experts in caring for people with cancer, from diagnosis through survivorship. We can help you function better, reduce your pain, and build your endurance and strength. Your physical therapist will plan a personal exercise program to restore and improve your:

  • Quality of life
  • Mobility
  • Balance
  • Independence

MSK physical therapists use a hands-on approach. They will make you a personal program to safely reach your therapy goals. Common conditions we treat include problems with:

  • Pain
  • Strength
  • Range of motion
  • Balance
  • Scar tissue (scar adhesions)
  • Myofascial pain (pain in the muscles and connective tissues)

You will need a referral from your doctor to schedule a physical therapy appointment.

Occupational Therapy

Our occupational therapists are experts in how cancer and cancer treatments affect your body and brain. Your therapeutic plan will help you have less pain and fatigue (feeling very tired) when you do your daily activities. Our occupational therapists will adapt and change your program activities to challenge you as you progress.

MSK occupational therapists can help while you’re still in the hospital to improve how you do your daily activities. They can help with self-care tasks, using adaptive equipment, splinting and bracing, cognitive (mind) activities, and changing your equipment or environment.

They also offer exercises to help increase your strength, coordination, safety, and balance.

We treat common conditions, including problems with:

  • Pain
  • Activities of daily living
  • Mental activities
  • Perception
  • Safety and judgment
  • Peripheral neuropathy (pain, tingling, and numbness) in the shoulders, arms, and hands
  • Paralysis in the shoulders, arms, and hands
  • Motion for large or small movements
  • Joint stiffness and weakness in the shoulders, arms, and hands
  • Strength and range of motion
  • Sensation and sensory integration

You will need a referral from your doctor to schedule an occupational therapy appointment.

Pediatric Rehabilitation Services

For children, MSK has special developmental and rehabilitative services. They include physical and occupational therapy services to both inpatients (in the hospital) and outpatients (outside the hospital). Our therapists are experts in caring for children with cancer, ranging in age from infants to adolescents. They work closely with your care team.

Lymphedema Therapy

What is lymphedema?

Your lymphatic system has 2 jobs. It helps fight infection and helps drain fluid from areas of your body. Your lymphatic system is made up of lymphatic fluid, lymph nodes, and lymphatic vessels.

Lymphatic fluid is the clear fluid that travels through your lymphatic system. It carries cells that help fight infections and other diseases. Your lymph nodes filter your lymphatic fluid, taking out bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, and other waste products. Lymphatic vessels are tiny tubes, like your blood vessels, that carry fluid to and from your lymph nodes.

Edema (swelling) is when lymphatic fluid stays in the body tissues. Lymphedema (LIMF-eh-DEE-ma) is when the normal drainage of fluid is affected by a blockage or a cut in the lymph nodes. Lymphedema can be hereditary (passed on from your parents). More often, it’s caused by infection, cancer, or scar tissue from radiation therapy. Removing lymph nodes during surgery also can make it hard for your lymphatic system to drain properly.

How can a lymphedema therapist help?

In the early stages of lymphedema when swelling is mild, compression clothing and exercise can help. You also can elevate (lift up) the affected body part.

For bad swelling, your occupational or physical therapist can use a treatment called complete decongestive therapy (CDT). Treatments include a special massage for lymphatic drainage, exercises, and compression bandaging. The light CDT massage improves the flow of lymphatic fluid. Compression bandaging helps reduce swelling.

MSK lymphedema therapists are physical and occupational therapists who are trained in managing lymphedema. Our therapists will monitor the size of the swelling throughout your treatment sessions. As the swelling goes down, they will teach you how to care for yourself. They will:

  • Give you a personal exercise program to help improve lymphatic flow
  • Order compression garments with the correct fit that meet your needs, and update as needed
  • Teach you about skin care to lower the risk of infection