Conversation with Liz Villalta, Physiotherapist

29 Sep 2021

Introducing yourself Liz Villalta- Physiotherapist

Work in oncology department St Vincent’s Private Hospital. We see oncology patients from the beginning to the end of their journey.

And perform pre- operative lymphedema screening, education to help to prevent complications post-surgery and set clients up with pre-habilitation exercises (before an admission). I see patients while they are in hospital and after they have gone home to help them with exercises, manual therapy, advice and management of any side –effects or complications that can occur.

Why would a woman need a physiotherapist after breast surgery?

The physio’s role is to educate the woman on any movement restrictions they may have after the surgery. Each surgeon has different precautions depending on what the surgery involved and physios will customise a program for you which is in line with these.

Physios will educate you on things that you should limit doing to prevent complications such as lymphoedema, cording and limited range of movement after operations such as mastectomies and reconstructions.

Physios teach women how to best move after surgery and what exercises they can do to safely regain their strength and movement.

We also see women before surgery to obtain baseline measurements of impedance using a machine called an L-dex (or a zozo machine may also be used). This helps us to assess their risks of lymphoedema and gives us a baseline score to track progress.

Physios may also perform manual therapy, fit women with compression devices and prescribe exercises to help to manage scar tissue and rehabilitation post surgery.

Why would a woman need a physiotherapist after cancer diagnosis?

A physiotherapist trained in oncology rehabilitation will work with you to prescribe safe and effective exercises that you can do to maintain your fitness during and after cancer treatments.

No matter what your level of fitness was before your diagnosis, most oncology treatments will affect your ability to continue to exercise at the same level however exercise is highly recommended to help to reduce side effects of common treatments such as chemo and radiation therapy.

A physiotherapist can provide supervision and guidance on what exercises can be done.

How important is exercise following surgery?

Evidence shows that maintaining physical fitness after surgery and after diagnosis of cancer is important to maintain skeletal muscle and heart muscle strength. When undergoing treatment women can lose their physical fitness levels and a physiotherapist can help them to maintain their exercise tolerance.

For some women who were not exercising much prior to their diagnosis, this is an opportunity to engage with a physiotherapist and to commence a graduated exercise program.

We should be aiming to follow the heart foundation guidelines of exercising 30 minutes 5 days/ week with 2 resistance exercise days.

How can a woman watching this find a suitable physiotherapist?

There are a variety of resources available and your oncologist may refer you to a local practitioner.

You can also look up the Australian Lymphology Association (type in your postcode for a local practitioner)

PINK group Physiotherapists have specialised training in cancer care and can be found with a google search

Cancer and Palliative care lymphedema specialist group of physiotherapist can be found under the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) website. They are specialised physiotherapists working in Australia.


Is diet important following surgery?

Good nutrition is important to help your body cope with the physical and emotional demands of cancer and cancer treatment.

Our dieticians recommend that you eat adequate amounts of healthy varied foods. It is a good idea to speak to a dietician if you have any concerns about your dietary intake, if you are losing weight or not feeling energised.

What kind of pre-hab options are available? When should someone start?

The fitter and stronger you are before any medical condition/ surgery, the more likely your rehabilitation after surgery will be easier. You can seek advice from a physiotherapist to get baseline measures of your capacity and set you up with an individualised exercise program as part of your pre- hab- before you go in for surgery or chemo treatment.

You can start now, even if you are having symptoms or side- effects, exercise has been shown to help with these but it is worth getting some advice from a physiotherapist so you don’t overdo it.