The Role of Physical Therapy in Children with Leukemia

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Incidence of Leukemia in Children in the United States

Leukemia is the most common type of cancer in children, accounting for about 28% of all childhood cancers. In the United States, approximately 3,500 children are diagnosed with leukemia each year.

What is Leukemia?

Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. It results from the uncontrolled growth of abnormal white blood cells, which interfere with the body's ability to produce healthy blood cells.

Types of Leukemia

  • Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL): This is the most common type of leukemia in children.
  • Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML): This type is less common but more aggressive.
  • Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL): These types are rare in children.

Causes of Leukemia

The exact cause of leukemia is not known. However, it is believed to result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some risk factors include:

  • » Genetic disorders (e.g., Down syndrome)
  • » Family history of leukemia
  • » Exposure to high levels of radiation or certain chemicals
Physical Therapy Leukemia Causes

Diagnosis of Leukemia

Diagnosing leukemia typically involves several tests, including:

  • Blood tests: To check for abnormal levels of white blood cells.
  • Bone marrow biopsy: To examine the bone marrow for leukemia cells.
  • Imaging tests: Such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs to detect the spread of leukemia.
  • Lumbar puncture: To check if leukemia cells have spread to the spinal fluid.

Treatment of Leukemia

Treatment for leukemia has improved significantly, leading to increased survival rates. Common treatments include:

  • » Chemotherapy: The primary treatment for most types of leukemia.
  • » Radiation therapy: Used in certain cases to target leukemia cells.
  • » Stem cell transplant: Replaces diseased bone marrow with healthy stem cells.
  • » Targeted therapy: Uses drugs to target specific aspects of leukemia cells.

Physical Therapy Treatment of Leukemia

Side Effects of Leukemia Treatments

Children undergoing treatment for leukemia may experience various side effects, such as:

  • » Chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy: Nerve damage causing pain, tingling, and weakness.
  • » Fatigue: Extreme tiredness affecting daily activities.
  • » Edema: Swelling caused by fluid retention.
  • » Loss of range of motion: Difficulty moving joints.
  • » Joint, muscle, and bone pain
  • » Unsteady gait: Walking difficulties.
  • » Muscle weakness
  • » Sensory impairments
  • » Low bone mineral density
  • » Muscle tightness
  • » Poor posture
  • » Steroid myopathy: Muscle weakness caused by steroid use.
  • » Balance and coordination issues

The Role of Physical Therapy

Physical therapists are movement experts who can significantly enhance the quality of life for children with leukemia. They help mitigate the side effects of leukemia treatments and promote optimal physical development.

Physical Therapy Role in Leukemia Treatment

Benefits of Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help children with leukemia by:

  • » Improving strength and endurance
  • » Enhancing physical function and exercise tolerance
  • » Reducing pain and discomfort
  • » Improving movement and range of motion
  • » Preventing loss of function during treatments

Physical Therapy Evaluation

During an evaluation, a physical therapist will:

  • » Assess range of motion in all joints
  • » Evaluate strength during daily activities
  • » Observe gait changes
  • » Test balance on various surfaces
  • » Measure motor skills appropriate for the child’s age

Impact on Motor Development

Leukemia and its treatments can affect normal motor development in children, leading to delays in achieving motor milestones. Physical therapy can address issues such as:

  • » Walking difficulties
  • » Motor skills impairment
  • » Social skill development
  • » Maintaining mature posture without compensations or muscle imbalances

Screening for Physical Therapy

Children with leukemia can benefit from physical therapy if they:

  • » Have difficulty keeping up with daily activities and recreational activities.
  • » Experience pain, weakness, or mobility issues.
  • » Struggle with school or home activities that they could perform before treatment.

Collaboration with the Medical Team

Effective collaboration with the medical team is crucial for improving outcomes for children with leukemia. Physical therapists work closely with oncologists, nurses, and other healthcare providers to create a comprehensive care plan.

Physical Therapy Collaboration with the Medical Team


Children and adolescents with leukemia have a high rehabilitation potential, especially with early inclusion of physical therapy. If your child has leukemia, consider contacting Chaux Physical therapy to help regain the quality of life they deserve.

This blog is for educational purposes and is based on evidence-based research and professional experience.

Physical therapy plays an essential role in helping children with leukemia navigate their treatment journey. By addressing the physical side effects of leukemia treatments, physical therapists can significantly improve a child's overall health, function, and quality of life.