Weakness

A person who has trouble moving may have general weakness and problems walking, and they may find it hard to get from one place to another. When a person spends a lot of time in bed, muscles get weaker. Other things that can make it hard to move include pain in the joints or legs, as well as some treatment side effects. It’s important to move and exercise as much as possible to help prevent new problems. Other problems caused by being less active may include poor or no appetite, constipation, skin sores, problems with breathing, stiff joints, worsening fatigue, and mental changes.

What the patient can do

  • Do active or passive range-of-motion exercises as instructed. (See the section called “ Exercise.”)
  • Take pain medicines as prescribed.
  • Drink as much liquid as you’re allowed.
  • Keep a record of bowel movements. (See the section called “ Constipation” for information about foods that help prevent this problem.)
  • Change positions at least every 2 hours while resting.
  • Wear non-skid shoes (not slippers or clogs that slide off easily) when walking or standing.
  • Use any brace, cane, walker, or other support prescribed for you.
  • Take short walks if you can. Even if you are bedridden, try to sit up in a chair for meals and get up to use the bathroom or bedside commode.
  • If you need help walking, have a family member support you on your weakest side. (For instance, if your right side is weak, have someone stand on your right side before you get up. Have your helper put their left arm around you, and put their right forearm and hand in front of your right shoulder.)

What caregivers can do

  • When lifting the patient, keep your back straight and bend and lift from your knees and hips. Stand as close to the patient as possible, and keep your feet spread apart for a firm base and good balance.
  • Always lock the wheels on the bed or wheelchair when getting in or out of it.
  • Always pull the patient toward you when turning them in bed.
  • Clear the floor so that you can help the person to the chair or bathroom without tripping over anything and without slipping on liquids.
  • If the patient is unsteady but still able to get up, see the section called “ Falls.”
  • If the patient is to be alone for a while, be sure that the phone and emergency phone numbers are within easy reach.

Call the cancer team if the patient:

  • Is getting weaker
  • Falls
  • Has a headache, blurred vision, numbness, or tingling
  • Has a change in mental status, such as getting confused, disoriented, or very sleepy
  • Has pain that gets worse

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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Last Medical Review: June 8, 2015 Last Revised: June 8, 2015

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