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NCI-CONNECT Rare Brain & Spine Tumor Network
 

Weakness

A man in a wheelchair is getting assistance from a nurse
Credit: iStock

What is Weakness

Weakness is a loss of muscle strength that affects your movement or activity. It is commonly caused by brain tumors located in the frontal lobes or the brainstem. Weakness can also be caused by treatment-associated swelling or an injury to the brain. 

Common types of weakness in people with brain tumors include weakness on one side of the body or weakness in the hip muscles from corticosteroids, a commonly prescribed medication. Ask your health care professional about weakness and if your weakness is permanent or may improve so you know what to expect.

Weakness may include the following symptoms:

  • In legs or hips: a decreased range of motion, feeling off balance, trouble walking or an increase in accidents or falls
  • In arms or shoulders: trouble picking things up, holding things or performing daily tasks
  • On the face: droopy eyelids, difficulty closing one or both eyes, double vision, trouble swallowing or breathing 
  • Area that is weak: pain, cramping, numbness, tingling, sensitivity to cold/heat or touch

Ways to Manage Weakness 

  • Keep a log of your weakness and what you are doing to manage it daily using a journal. 
  • Take precautions to avoid falls and be cautious.
    • Be careful when performing household tasks and handling sharp and hot objects.
    • Bend at the knees, not at your waist, when lifting or carrying items.
    • Be careful on stairs and always use handrails. 
    • Install non-skid surfaces in the bath and other slippery spots in your home.
    • Remove throw rugs and mats, and clear walkways of extra furniture.
    • Make sure your room is well lit so you can see where your feet are. 
  • Talk to your health care provider about if assistive devices, including canes and walkers, may be needed to if you have trouble with balance. 
  • Orthopedic shoes or gloves may help protect hands and feet from injury.
  • Talk with your health care provider about massage therapy or acupuncture. Ask about physical or occupational therapy that can be helpful to strengthen, fix or make up for weakness and maximize independence. They will help with range of motion, make suggestions for environmental changes, and provide assistive devices.
  • A home safety evaluation can be ordered by your health care professional to evaluate your home. They will make suggestions for any modifications that are needed to maintain your safety, such as:
    • Setting up your living area on one floor since weakness may make going up and down stairs not practical. 
    • Adding handrails or ramps and moving furniture to allow space for assistive devices.
  • Ask for help from others.

Some self-care activities you can do to improve your pain can include diet, exercise, sleep, or medication

  • Weakness may make it hard to do certain types of exercises. Talk to your health care team before starting any exercises to determine what exercise is right for you and if you need to exercise with a partner. Start slow and don’t push yourself too hard.
  • Ask your health care provider what medication or supplements are appropriate for you and what you may experience with the weakness you have. 
  • Your health care provider may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce your weakness if related to swelling in the brain.
  • Ask your health care provider what impact your medication will have on your weakness.
  • It is common for your weakness to be more severe when you are fatigued or don’t get enough sleep.
Home Safety Icon

Home Safety Checklist

If you are experiencing weakness, download and use this safety checklist to make your home safe.

 

When to Report Weakness

Connect with your health care provider and discuss any concerns you have. Share your logged symptoms and self-care activities with them.

  • Ask your doctor when and how to report your symptoms to them. 
  • Weakness may fluctuate during the day. It may be better when you first get up and get worse during the day with activity. If your weakness progressively gets worse over days or weeks contact your doctor.

Ask your doctor what you should do in the case of an emergency and when your weakness should be reported urgently. This may include sudden worsening of your weakness, new weakness in another area of your body, or swelling in the area of the body that is weak.
 

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