How Can Exercise Prevent and Manage Cancer-related Lymphedema?

How Can Exercise Prevent and Manage Cancer-related Lymphedema?

Exercise can play a significant role in preventing and managing cancer-related lymphedema, a condition that can occur as a side effect of cancer treatment.

Lymphedema is the swelling of a limb or body part due to the accumulation of lymphatic fluid. It commonly occurs after the removal of lymph nodes during cancer surgery or radiation therapy. Here’s how exercise can help in preventing and managing cancer-related lymphedema:

Preventing Cancer-Related Lymphedema:

Education and Awareness: Before starting any exercise program, individuals at risk for lymphedema or those who have already experienced mild lymphedema should be educated about the condition. They need to understand the risk factors and signs and symptoms of lymphedema to recognize it early.

Gradual Progression: If you’re at risk for lymphedema, consult with a lymphedema specialist or CETI Cancer Exercise Specialist to create an individualized exercise plan. Gradual progression in intensity and duration is essential to minimize the risk of overexertion and potential damage to the lymphatic system.

Safe Movements: Focus on safe and low-impact exercises that avoid overstraining the affected limb. Exercises like walking, swimming, and stationary cycling are typically recommended, as they are gentle on the body and promote lymphatic flow.

Managing Cancer-Related Lymphedema:

Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT): CDT is a standard treatment for lymphedema. It involves manual lymphatic drainage (a specialized massage technique), compression bandaging, skin care, and exercise. The exercise component, along with the other aspects of CDT, helps to reduce swelling and maintain lymphatic function.

Gradual Progression: Just as in prevention, exercise for managing lymphedema should start slowly and progressively. Focus on a routine that incorporates both aerobic exercise and strength training. Your physical therapist or lymphedema specialist will tailor exercises to your specific needs and stage of lymphedema.

Compression Garments: Continue to use compression garments as recommended by your healthcare provider during and after exercise. These garments help maintain the reduction of swelling achieved through therapy and exercise.

Breathing and Relaxation Techniques: Deep breathing and relaxation exercises can help manage stress, which can exacerbate lymphedema. These techniques also encourage the flow of lymphatic fluid.

Stay Hydrated: Proper hydration is essential to support the lymphatic system’s function. Dehydration can make lymphedema symptoms worse.

Skin Care: Good skin care is crucial to prevent infections in the affected limb. Keep the skin clean, moisturized, and protect it from cuts and abrasions.

It’s important to remember that the management of lymphedema should always be supervised by a healthcare professional, such as a physical therapist or a certified lymphedema therapist. They can provide you with specific guidance based on your condition and needs, ensuring that exercise is done safely and effectively. Upon completion of CLT or PT, you should consult with a CETI Cancer Exercise Specialist to ensure the safety and efficacy of your exercise program moving forward.