Atlanta-based physical therapist Angelo Rizzo was diagnosed with Leukemia in 1999 – coincidentally less than a year after he transitioned his orthopedic and sports physical therapy practice to one specializing in helping people combat the side effects of cancer treatment.
Now in complete remission, he continues to apply his personal experience and clinical skills to help others beat their diagnoses and improve their quality of life.
Rizzo first noticed the underutilization of physical therapy treatment in helping people fight cancer while volunteering with the National Osteoporosis Foundation. During his tenure, he was astounded by the high number of cancer survivors who were subsequently diagnosed with osteoporosis – a bone weakening disease that leads to an increased risk of fracture and a common side effect of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
When Rizzo was diagnosed, he experienced firsthand the aftermath of cancer treatment – including extreme fatigue and weakness – that many of his patients had described.
During his first few months of treatment, even Rizzo avoided exercise completely due to his lack of energy. But he finally realized it was time to practice what he had always preached to his patients – exercise and stay active.
Just a few short weeks later, he began to feel the benefits of exercise during chemotherapy and the difference it was making in his recovery.
Today, Rizzo taps into his experience to encourage and motivate his patients as they work to regain their strength.
“Many cancer patients don’t know that physical therapy is an option to help combat their treatment side effects,” Rizzo says. “The most common feedback I get back from my patients after working with them is that they wished their doctor had told them about this earlier.”
More than 65% of Rizzo’s referrals come from oncologists, radiation oncologists and cancer surgeons. He helps patients fight mental and physical fatigue during and after treatment through strength, balance and monitored endurance training, as well as using exercise guidelines to enhance physical and mental performance.
He teaches them that the severe fatigue, weakness, swelling, and pain they struggle with are manageable, and that the right skills and training from an oncology physical therapist can help restore and improve their daily activities – making a world of difference for both the patient and care giver.
Very few practices currently focus specifically on using physical therapy to combat the symptoms of cancer treatment, but the need for this service is becoming increasingly recognizable among physicians and their patients.
And while physicians and medicine focus on treating cancer at the cellular level, Rizzo reminds his patients and the oncology community that physical therapy helps heal the mind, body and soul at the functional level.
He emphasizes that early intervention and detection of physical impairments are key to functional restoration and recovery.
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