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Lymphology. 2005 Dec;38(4):167-80.

Low intensity resistance exercise for breast cancer patients with arm lymphedema with or without compression sleeve.

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  • 1Department of Health Science, Division of Physiotherapy, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.


Clinical trials of the effect of physical exercise on breast cancer related arm lymphedema (ALE) are very rare. The aim of this study was to examine if controlled low intensity arm exercises with weights, with or without a compression sleeve, influence breast cancer related ALE. Thirty-one breast cancer treated patients with small or moderate ALE were included in the study. A specifically designed arm exercise program was performed with or without compression sleeve on different days and in a randomized order. Measurements were performed before, directly after and 24 hours after the exercise intervention, with water displacement method and multiple frequency bioelectrical impedance analysis (n=10) for volume of the arms and Borg's scale for perceived exertion during training. There was an increase of total arm volume of the lymphedema arm immediately after the exercise intervention for both with and without sleeve conditions (p < 0.01). At 24 hours, no volume increase was found compared to pre-exercise and both groups showed tendency towards reduced lymphedema relative volume (p < 0.05). The patient's rating of perceived exertion was low regardless of whether a sleeve was worn, but was significantly higher when exercising with the sleeve. We conclude that low intensity exercises can be performed by patients with arm lymphedema without risk of worsening the edema. Exercises without the sleeve may be of benefit provided compression sleeve is worn regularly.

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