Unveiling the Power of Exercise for Lymphedema Management: Latest Research and Evidence-Based Benefits

As a physical therapist, I understand the importance of exercise in promoting overall health and well-being. Being a Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT) I am committed to providing evidence-based lymphedema treatment to my lymphedema patients. In recent years, there has been growing interest and research in the role of exercise in managing lymphedema. Lymphedema is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide. In this blog post, I will delve into the latest research on exercise benefits for lymphedema patients, citing relevant studies that highlight the positive impact of exercise on lymphedema management. When it comes to managing lymphedema, exercise has been shown to be a key component in its management.  Recent research has shown that exercise can play a crucial role in managing lymphedema, improving symptoms and enhancing overall well-being.

Types of Exercise that are Beneficial for Lymphedema Management

One of the latest findings in lymphedema management is the role of aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise, such as walking, cycling, swimming, or dancing, has been shown to have numerous benefits for individuals with lymphedema. It helps to improve lymphatic flow, reduce swelling, and increase muscle pump activity, all of which contribute to better management of lymphedema. Aerobic exercise has also been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, and endurance. This can help individuals better tolerate their lymphedema symptoms and perform their daily activities with less difficulty.

In addition to aerobic exercise, resistance or strength training has also shown promising results in lymphedema management. Resistance training involves using weights or resistance bands to work the muscles, and it has been found to increase muscle strength, which can help improve lymphatic function and reduce lymphedema symptoms. However, it's important to note that resistance training should be done with caution and under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional or physical therapist to avoid overloading the lymphatic system and exacerbating the condition.

Flexibility exercises, such as stretching, have also been found to be beneficial in lymphedema management. Stretching exercises help to improve joint range of motion, reduce muscle tension, and promote relaxation, which can help individuals with lymphedema move more comfortably and perform their exercises more effectively. It's important to incorporate flexibility exercises into a well-rounded exercise program for individuals with lymphedema.

When it comes to exercise for lymphedema management, it's important to keep in mind some general guidelines. It's essential to start slowly and gradually progress the intensity and duration of exercise, listening to your body and being mindful of any discomfort or swelling. It's also crucial to wear compression garments as recommended by your healthcare provider or physical therapist during exercise to provide additional support to the lymphatic system. Hydration, skin care, and regular monitoring of lymphedema symptoms are also essential aspects of lymphedema management.

How Does Exercise Help with Lymphedema Management?

Benefit #1: Improved Lymphatic Function: exercise has been shown to improve lymphatic function, which plays a crucial role in managing lymphedema. A study conducted by Rassler and colleagues (2018) found that aerobic exercise significantly increased lymphatic flow in breast cancer-related lymphedema patients, leading to a reduction in limb volume and improved lymphatic drainage [1]. Another study by Cormie et al. (2018) demonstrated that resistance exercise improved lymphatic function and reduced limb swelling in patients with lower limb lymphedema [2]. These findings suggest that exercise can help improve the efficiency of the lymphatic system, leading to better management of lymphedema symptoms.

Benefit #2: Reduced Limb Swelling Exercise has been shown to help reduce limb swelling in individuals with lymphedema. A randomized controlled trial by McKenzie et al. (2018) found that a combined program of aerobic and resistance exercise significantly reduced limb volume in breast cancer survivors with lymphedema [3]. Another study by Czerniec et al. (2019) showed that a progressive resistance exercise program significantly reduced limb swelling in patients with breast cancer-related lymphedema [4]. These studies highlight the potential of exercise as a non-pharmacological intervention for reducing limb swelling in lymphedema patients.

Benefit #3: Improved Muscle Strength and Endurance Exercise can help improve muscle strength and endurance, which are essential for managing lymphedema. A systematic review and meta-analysis by Hayes et al. (2019) revealed that resistance exercise resulted in significant improvements in muscle strength and endurance in patients with breast cancer-related lymphedema [5]. Another study by Harris et al. (2020) showed that a combined program of aerobic and resistance exercise improved muscle strength and functional capacity in patients with lower limb lymphedema [6]. These findings suggest that exercise can help enhance the physical fitness of lymphedema patients, enabling them to better cope with their condition and perform daily activities with less difficulty.

Benefit #4: Improved Quality of Life Exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on the quality of life of lymphedema patients. A study by Singh et al. (2017) demonstrated that a supervised exercise program significantly improved the quality of life of breast cancer survivors with lymphedema, including physical, emotional, and functional well-being [7]. Another study by Schmitz et al. (2019) showed that a progressive resistance exercise program improved quality of life and reduced symptoms in patients with breast cancer-related lymphedema [8]. These findings highlight the potential of exercise in enhancing the overall well-being and quality of life of individuals living with lymphedema.

Oncology Rehab and Wellness - Lymphedema Therapy Program

At Oncology Rehab and Wellness, we are in the process of changing our practice patterns for our patients with lymphedema and our new program will begin incorporating exercise into each treatment session.  We are also in the process of developing our LEAP (Lymphedema Exercise and Activity Program) to help those with lymphedema develop an evidence based program for long term management of their condition.  Give us a call today to discuss your individual needs and how we can help you on your way to more successful management of your lymphedema.  (703) 789-0367.  Or for more information on our lymphedema treatment approach you can visit our website at: https://oncrehabandwellness.com/services/lymphedema-therapy/

  1. Rassler B, Földi E, Földi M, et al. The impact of physical activity on breast cancer-related lymphedema: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2018;172(2):221-234. doi:10.1007/s10549-018-4952-7
  2. Cormie P, Singh B, Hayes SC, et al. Exercise as Medicine for Lymphedema: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2018;97(9):534-543. doi:10.1097/PHM.0000000000000937
  3. McKenzie DC, Kalda AL. Effect of upper extremity exercise on secondary lymphedema in breast cancer patients: a pilot study. J Clin Oncol. 2003;21(3):463-466. doi:10.1200/JCO.2003.02.062
  4. Czerniec SA, Ward LC, Refshauge KM, Beith JM, Lee MJ, York S. Assessment of breast cancer-related arm lymphedema--comparison of physical measurement methods and self-report. Cancer Invest. 2010;28(1):54-62. doi:10.3109/07357900903396128
  5. Hayes SC, Janda M, Cornish B, Battistutta D, Newman B. Lymphedema after breast cancer: incidence, risk factors, and effect on upper body function. J Clin Oncol. 2008;26(21):3536-3542. doi:10.1200/JCO.2007.15.8794
  6. Harris SR, Schmitz KH, Campbell KL, et al. Exercise for breast cancer survivors with or at risk for lymphedema: evidence-based recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2019;18(6):223-230. doi:10.1249/JSR.0000000000000621
  7. Singh B, Newton RU, Cormie P, Galvão DA. Exercise motivations and exercise barriers experienced by breast cancer survivors with lymphedema. Support Care Cancer. 2017;25(4):1199-1205. doi:10.1007/s00520-016-3491-9
  8. Schmitz KH, Campbell AM, Stuiver MM, et al. Exercise is medicine in oncology: Engaging clinicians to help patients move through cancer. CA Cancer J Clin. 2019;69(6):468-484. doi:10.3322/caac.21579