Friday, October 19, 2012
Exercise - Position Statement of the National Lymphedema Network
Fitness and Exercise:
It is very important for individuals with lymphedema to be physically fit and maintain a healthy weight. A safe form of exercise is an essential part of a fitness program for people with lymphedema. Fitness and exercise are not the same. Exercise includes many different types of physical movement. The three main types of exercise are: aerobic, strength, and flexibility. These three types of exercise, along with Lymphedema Remedial Exercises, are addressed in this paper. There are many other types of exercise that have health benefits such as Pilates, yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, aquatic exercise,1 trampoline rebounding, breathing exercises,2 and relaxation exercise that have not been adequately studied in people with lymphedema. However, the person with lymphedema can use the benefits of any system of exercise if he/she follows the general safety principles of exercise with lymphedema, seeks medical guidance, and uses caution in starting any new exercise program.
Exercise and types of lymphedema:
Lymphedema has many causes. The type of exercise that is best for an individual depends upon the severity and cause of lymphedema and other co-existing medical conditions (e.g. heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, etc). Exercise for breast cancer-related lymphedema is the most studied lymphedema condition. Many conclusions about exercise and lymphedema are based on studies of breast cancer survivors that may or may not apply to other forms of lymphedema.
Lymphedema Remedial Exercise:
Lymphedema Remedial Exercise is a part of treatment for lymphedema when reduction of size of a limb is necessary. Lymphedema Remedial Exercise involves active, repetitive, non-resistive motion of the involved body part. Exercise in Phase I and Phase II Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) (see Position Paper “Diagnosis and Treatment of Lymphedema” http://www.lymphnet.org/pdfDocs/nlntreatment.pdf) is performed with compression as an essential part of the total (complete) reductive phase of lymphedema therapy.3-5 Lymphedema exercises, used with compression, help the body’s natural muscle pump to increase venous and lymphatic fluid return to the circulatory system and out of the swollen areas.
Remedial Exercises for lymphedema are similar to some movements of low impact Tai Chi and Qigong, but are different in that lymphedema Remedial Exercise is used with Phase I treatment of lymphedema to reduce size of the body part. Lymphedema Remedial Exercise has been studied and shown to reduce limb swelling.3-5 It is unknown whether Lymphedema Remedial Exercise alone can prevent lymphedema in at-risk individuals, or whether they can maintain reduction of swelling without compression.
Flexibility or Stretching Exercises:
Flexibility exercises include a wide range of activities that stretch muscle and connective tissues to increase and/or preserve range of motion. Flexibility exercises can minimize skin scarring and joint contractures that may lessen lymph flow. Flexibility exercises should be performed slowly and progressed gradually. Flexibility exercises are not a treatment for lymphedema, but are a part of optimal lifestyle management for reducing the complications of lymphedema. Lymphedema has a tendency to restrict motion of muscles and joints. Optimal lymphatic function requires full mobility of muscles and joints. Lymphedema from cancer treatment can be associated with tight muscles and connective tissues due to fibrous adhesions from surgery or radiation. Tight muscles and scars from surgery or radiation may require Physical or Occupational Therapy to treat before attempting to do self-stretching.
Specific stretching exercises for cancer treatment-related scars and joint restrictions in an area at risk of lymphedema should be prescribed by a provider familiar with the management of lymphedema. A specialized form of stretching exercise may be required for Axillary Web Syndrome (AWS) or axillary cording, a condition that can occur in cancer survivors who have had axillary (armpit) lymph nodes removed.6 AWS may benefit from treatment by a certified lymphedema therapist and specific home stretches taught by a therapist.7
**Important - Please read the full text on the National Lymphedema Network website: