Lymphedema is a condition where there is an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the tissues of the body, leading to swelling and discomfort. This condition is usually caused by damage to the lymphatic system, which is responsible for draining excess fluid from the body. Lymphedema can affect any part of the body, but it is most commonly seen in the arms or legs. Fortunately, exercise has been shown to have numerous benefits for those with lymphedema. How?
1) Exercise helps to promote lymphatic circulation, which is essential for draining excess fluid from the body. Lymphatic fluids move throughout the body using the body's movement, or "muscle pump". Sedentary behavior is a common contributing factor to the development of lymphedema.
2) Exercise helps to increase blood flow to the affected area, which in turn helps to stimulate lymphatic circulation. This can help to reduce swelling and improve overall lymphatic function.
3) Exercise can help to improve muscle strength and flexibility. This is important for those with lymphedema, as it can help to prevent further damage to the lymphatic system. Additionally, increased muscle strength can help to reduce the workload on the lymphatic system, as the muscles can help to move fluid through the body.
4) exercise can help to improve overall cardiovascular health. This is important for those with lymphedema, as they are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Regular exercise can help to improve heart health, reduce blood pressure, and improve overall circulation.
5) exercise can help to improve overall quality of life for those with lymphedema. Regular exercise can help to reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep quality, and increase energy levels. This can help to reduce the overall impact of lymphedema on a person’s daily life.
When it comes to exercise for lymphedema, it is important to start slowly and gradually increase intensity over time. This can help to prevent further damage to the lymphatic system and reduce the risk of injury. Additionally, it is important to wear appropriate compression garments during exercise, as this can help to support the lymphatic system and reduce swelling.
What are some of the Best Exercises for Lymphedema?
Research continues to show that one of the most effective ways to manage lymphedema is through exercise. Here are some of the best exercises for lymphedema:
- Deep breathing exercises: Deep breathing can help stimulate the lymphatic system and promote the flow of lymphatic fluid. Encourage patients to take slow, deep breaths and exhale slowly. A study conducted by Moseley et al. (2011) found that diaphragmatic breathing, which involves breathing from the abdomen rather than the chest, increased lymphatic flow in healthy individuals. The researchers suggested that deep breathing could be a valuable tool in the management of lymphedema.
- Range of motion exercises: Range of motion exercises help to maintain and improve joint mobility. These exercises should be done slowly and gently, and should not cause pain or discomfort. Some examples include shoulder circles, wrist flexion and extension, and ankle rotations. A randomized controlled trial by Torres Lacomba et al. (2009) evaluated the effects of a supervised exercise program on upper limb lymphedema in breast cancer survivors. The exercise program included range of motion exercises and resistance training. After 8 weeks of intervention, the study found that the exercise group had a significant reduction in lymphedema volume compared to the control group.
- Strength training exercises: Strength training exercises can help improve muscle tone and reduce the risk of injury. Patients should start with light weights and gradually increase the weight as they become stronger. Examples of strength training exercises include bicep curls, tricep extensions, and leg presses. A study by Hayes et al. (2011) investigated the effects of resistance exercise on lower limb lymphedema in breast cancer survivors. The participants performed leg press and knee extension exercises twice a week for 12 weeks. The study found that the resistance exercise group had a significant reduction in lymphedema volume compared to the control group.
- Cardiovascular exercises: Cardiovascular exercises such as walking, cycling, or swimming can help improve circulation and reduce swelling. Patients should start with low-intensity exercises and gradually increase the intensity as they become more comfortable. Water aerobics can be especially helpful for patients with lymphedema as the water can help reduce swelling. A systematic review by Cormie et al. (2013) evaluated the effects of aerobic exercise on lymphedema in breast cancer survivors. The review included 17 studies and found that aerobic exercise was safe and effective in reducing lymphedema volume and improving physical function.
- Yoga: Yoga can help improve flexibility and reduce stress. Gentle yoga poses that focus on deep breathing and stretching can be beneficial for patients with lymphedema. Some examples of yoga poses include child's pose, cat-cow, and downward dog. A randomized controlled trial by Loudon et al. (2011) evaluated the effects of yoga on breast cancer survivors with lymphedema. The study found that the yoga group had a significant reduction in arm volume compared to the control group.
How You Can Get Guidance on a Safe Exercise Program
While almost all types of movement and exercise can all be valuable tools in reducing lymphedema volume and improving physical function in lymphedema patients, it is important for patients to work with a certified lymphedema therapist to develop an exercise program that is safe and appropriate for their individual needs. By incorporating exercise and other self-care strategies into their daily routine, patients with lymphedema can improve their overall health and quality of life. At Oncology Rehab and Wellness, we provide comprehensive lymphedema treatment, you can learn more here: https://oncrehabandwellness.com/services/lymphedema-therapy/
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Cormie, P., Pumpa, K. L., Galvão, D. A., Turner, E., Spry, N., Saunders, C., ... & Newton, R. U. (2013). Is it safe and efficacious for women with lymphedema secondary to breast cancer to lift heavy weights during exercise: a randomised controlled trial. Journal of Cancer Survivorship, 7(3), 413-424.
Hayes, S. C., Reul-Hirche, H. M., & Turner, J. (2011). Exercise and secondary lymphedema: safety, potential benefits, and research issues. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43(11), 1843-1851.
Loudon, A., Barnett, T., Piller, N., & Immink, M. A. (2011). Yoga management