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The role of Physiotherapy

Physiotherapists are a part of the team of experts who look after your child at The Children's Hospital at Westmead (CHW). Cancer and cancer treatments can result in issues with strength, endurance, flexibility, coordination, balance and development, and difficulties with breathing. The physiotherapy team at CHW work to reduce the complications and side effects associated with cancer and its treatment.

Physiotherapists assess your child and work with your child and family to help them move better in your home and the community, get into and out of cars, breathe more easily, become stronger and fitter, manage pain and improve quality of life. They also help with development of gross motor skills in younger children, and promote healthy behaviours including regular physical activity because it is a safe and essential part of any child's development and can help to reduce the secondary complications of cancer treatment.

Referrals to Physiotherapy

Your child's specialist doctor or paediatrician can refer your child to physiotherapy if assessment and management is required. The physiotherapist will then visit you on the ward if your child is an inpatient, or get in touch over the phone to arrange an outpatient appointment at a time that is suitable to you.

What to expect from Physiotherapy

When you and your child meet with your physiotherapist, your child can expect to undergo a comprehensive assessment. This means that the physiotherapist will have a look at your child's strength, fitness, flexibility, coordination, balance and developmental skills, plus assess your child’s breathing and pain. They also gather lots of information about your child’s home and school environment, and their hobbies and interests. Physiotherapists then work with you and your child to set goals, and then to plan and perform treatments to help your child get better. These treatments are evidence-based and tailored to each individual. They can be modified to your child's medical condition and treatment plans, to ensure that all treatments are safe and beneficial.

When in hospital, it’s helpful for your child and for their physiotherapist if your child is dressed, has shoes on and is out of bed. This also helps to normalise their routine and encourage physical activity.

You and your child may meet different physiotherapists during your time at CHW. We all work together to provide your child with the best possible care. We may also ask you to support your child with their treatments to help them work towards their goals when they're feeling well enough to do so.

Treatment settings

Physiotherapists generally see your child on the ward or in the physiotherapy department treatment spaces, Monday to Friday between 8am and 5pm. Sometimes they will see your child in the Oncology Treatment Centre or in the hydrotherapy pool, depending on your child's needs.


Read the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) position statement on exercise in cancer care.

Management of Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN)

Contact us

For more information please contact the Physiotherapy Department on (02) 9845 3369 and ask for the Oncology Physiotherapist.

Location: off Outpatients Street, Outpatients building, level 2

Parental questions

How important is it for my child to exercise?

While we recognise that cancer and cancer treatments can have complications, evidence shows that exercise is a safe and effective treatment in children with cancer.

What could happen if they spend long periods of time in bed during the course of their treatment?

It's very important for children to remain physically active, because long periods of time in bed can result in weakness, tight muscles, poor balance, difficulties moving or walking around and decreased quality of life.

Is my child well enough to participate in physiotherapy?

The physiotherapists liaise with the medical staff to ensure that treatments provided are safe and are in the best possible interests of the child. Physiotherapists have access to your child's medical notes and ensure they check test results prior to each session. The physiotherapists may ask you to encourage your child to perform exercises when they're feeling better, to help them work towards their goals.

How do I access physiotherapy services?

If you think your child would benefit from physiotherapy, chat to your child's doctor and they can make a referral to physiotherapy if it's appropriate. It’s important for physiotherapists to be involved sooner rather than later, because often early treatment can prevent problems from getting worse and harder to treat.

How do I know if my child is at-risk of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN)? 

CIPN is a side effect of some chemotherapy medicine, such as vincristine, vinblastine, carboplatin, cisplatin and etoposide. CIPN does not occur in every child who is given chemotherapy medicine, but it is a common side effect.

What are some of the signs and symptoms of CIPN?

Signs and symptoms can include:

  1. ‘Pins and needles’ sensation
  2. Pain
  3. Numbness
  4. Extra sensitivity to touch
  5. Weakness
  6. Difficulties with walking or balance
  7. Difficulties with hand skills



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