July 11, 2022
How to Manage Chemotherapy Aches and Pains
Chemotherapy is a common treatment that helps fight cancer. It uses powerful drugs to stop cancer cells from growing and spreading and helps healthy cells bounce back. While chemotherapy treatment itself isn’t painful or uncomfortable, it can come with some side effects, many of them painful ones. Chemotherapy aches and pains vary depending on the type of cancer, overall health of the patient, and type of chemotherapy received.
Each person’s reaction will be different and some patients undergoing chemotherapy may not experience any side effects at all. Some side effects are experienced right after treatment while others may not be experienced until months or even years later, with some being permanent. Luckily, if you experience side effects or pain from chemotherapy, you don’t have to suffer through them without assistance. There are many ways to help manage chemotherapy side effects and ease any pain. Below we’ll discuss the various possible chemotherapy side effects and how to effectively manage them.
Everyone’s energy levels are different, so the level at which chemotherapy aches and pains affects a patient’s energy levels varies. Fatigue levels after chemotherapy can differ from feeling a little tired and weak to feeling completely exhausted and devoid of energy. This side effect can come on quickly or slowly develop over time. It’s normal for it to take some time to fully regain strength and energy after undergoing chemotherapy so it’s important to be patient. For some patients, it takes a few weeks to return back to normal energy levels and for others, it takes several months.
The first step to managing fatigue is to evaluate your personal energy levels. Keep track of how they’re changing and be aware of your personal fatigue warning signs so you can proactively manage your energy levels. Some ways to manage fatigue include:
- Giving yourself more rest breaks or longer rest times throughout the day. Taking short 15-20 minute naps throughout the day can help with fatigue.
- Trying to be active instead of sedentary. A brisk walk or light workout can help keep fatigue down and make chemotherapy treatment easier on your energy levels.
- Planning chores and activites on days and times when you know you have the most energy.
- Asking friends and family for help with tasks when your energy levels are low.
- Drinking eight to ten 8-ounce glasses of water or liquids containing electrolytes to stay hydrated.
- Nutrition is an important part of the healing process, consider nutrition counseling and the overall benefits.
Nausea & Vomiting
Sometimes chemotherapy can irritate the cells lining your gastrointestinal (GI) tract or the area of the brain that controls nausea and lead to nausea and vomiting that can last anywhere from a few hours to several weeks after treatment. Your doctor should prescribe you medication to prevent or decrease nausea and vomiting. However, there are additional ways you can manage nausea or vomiting if the medication isn’t proving enough.
- Make sure you stay hydrated by regularly drinking water throughout the day to help keep nausea at bay and avoid drinking anything with caffeine.
- Try eating small meals often throughout the day, make sure to eat easily digestible food, and eat slowly. Consider reaching out to a nutritionist about this.
- Pay attention to what foods and drinks trigger nausea or vomiting and avoid them.
- Try relaxing breathing techniques when you feel nauseous or consider acupressure treatments.
Constipation & Diarrhea
Diarrhea and constipation are common side effects during chemotherapy treatment and can continue after treatment as well. These can also be side effects of anti-nausea and vomiting medication given for chemotherapy. If either of these side effects becomes an ongoing problem, let your doctor know and they can prescribe medication for it. Otherwise, some steps you can take to manage constipation or diarrhea include:
- Eat foods that are high in fiber such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and prunes. We recommend you contact a professional nutritionist first.
- Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day.
- Try natural supplements for digestive problems.
- Take over-the-counter medication for either constipation or diarrhea.
Some forms of chemotherapy can cause hair thinning or loss. Hair loss typically occurs 2-4 weeks after your first chemotherapy treatment. Hair will begin to grow back a few months after your last chemotherapy treatment. Even though this is a side effect you can’t stop, you can take precautions to make the hair loss process easier and keep your scalp healthy for when your hair starts to grow back.
- Be gentle when washing your hair and scalp and use a gentle shampoo and conditioner, such as baby shampoo.
- Protect your scalp from the sun by wearing a hat or headscarf and putting on sunscreen.
- Ask your doctor what scalp treatment options can help you manage hair loss and are safe to use.
Mouth & Throat Changes
Since chemotherapy affects the cells in your GI tract, including your mouth and throat, those areas can be affected. Possible changes include sores in the mouth and throat, dry mouth, changes in taste, infections, and increased sensitivity to hot or cold foods and drinks. You can manage changes to the mouth and throat in a variety of ways:
- Check your mouth daily to make sure there are no signs of infection
- Keep your mouth moist by sipping water throughout the day
- Use a soft toothbrush when brushing your teeth
- Don’t use mouthwash that contains alcohol
- Take small bites of food or eat softer food
- Suck on ice or popsicles
Chemotherapy aches and pains include; burning, numbness, tingling, or shooting pain in the hands and feet, as well as headaches and muscle pains. If you’re experiencing pain after chemotherapy treatments, it’s important to let your doctor know. Some pain can be caused by chemo but it could also be the cancer itself getting worse.
- Talk to your doctor in depth about the pain before trying any at-home methods. Make sure to describe the location, description, and level of pain. It’s also helpful to notice when the pain is worse and when it’s better.
- If you’re already taking any pain medications take note of which ones work, how long it takes for them to start working, and how long the effects last.
- Make sure you consult with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter pain medications
- Let your friends and family know about your pain so they can help you manage it and assist with tasks that make the pain worse
- Take your pain medications on a regular schedule to control the pain, even if you aren’t in pain
- Try a relaxing activity that helps relieve pain such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, etc.
The Bottom Line
While some side effects and pain from chemotherapy are unavoidable, you can be proactive and take steps to manage side effects and pain. Make sure you’re communicating with your doctor about any chemotherapy aches and pains you’re experiencing so they can rule out potential issues and give you the best recommendations for easing side effects and chemotherapy-related pain. If you need professional help managing side effects and pain, schedule a call with us today.