Cancer related fatigue (CRF) is a physical, emotional, and/or cognitive tiredness related to cancer or cancer treatment.  This fatigue is not in proportion to activities you have been doing, and interferes with your daily functioning.  CRF is more severe and less likely caused by stress or just being tired.  CRF is reported more frequently than any other symptom of cancer and cancer treatment and affects cancer survivors at all stages of disease.  It can occur during treatment, when the cancer is advanced and even when cancer is in remission.

What causes cancer related fatigue?

Unfortunately the side effects from any cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and even stem cell transplant, can cause cancer related fatigue.  CRF can also be due to the cancer itself, or other existing health conditions that exist alongside it.

How to I know if I have cancer related fatigue?

  • Feeling tired, weary, exhausted even after a good night’s sleep
  • Lack of energy/prolonged tiredness after activity
  • Weakness, heaviness in arms/legs
  • Listlessness or irritability
  • Trouble starting or finishing tasks due to tiredness
  • Needing to sleep during the day
  • Unable or needing help to do usual or desired activities
  • Being too tired to eat
  • Difficulty with concentration and memory
  • Limiting social activities due to tiredness

What is physical therapy?

Physical therapists (PTs) are experts in movement in function, especially when movement involves changes in “normal” movement patterns.  Physical Therapists are dedicated to promoting health and wellness of all people through preventing functional decline and the development of certain conditions.

How can physical therapy help me?

If CRF is affecting you, a PT can perform an evaluation either in the hospital if you are admitted for treatment, or in an outpatient PT clinic, such as North Country Hospital Rehabilitation.  There are often multiple components to your fatigue that can be addressed through a personally designed treatment program by your PT.

What will the PT have me do?

Exercise is an important component of treatment for CRF.  Evidence is shown that aerobic endurance training in combination with moderate resistance strength training improves physical performance and reduces fatigue, and is recommended as essential components of treatment.

Some treatments that your PT might recommend are:

  • Postural education and training
  • Strengthening exercise (body weight, elastic bands, or free weights)
  • Aerobic exercise (i.e. walking, biking, swimming)
  • Stretching program
  • Deep breathing and relaxation techniques/mindfulness training
  • Sleep hygiene
  • Energy conservation education

If you think that a PT might help ask your physician for a referral.  If you have any questions please call NCH Rehab Services at 802-334-3260.

Reference Calvet, M., Curran, J., Yamada, K. (December, 2015). Oncology Section of the APTA.  Retrieved from: