Can aqua therapy help with Lymphedema?

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  By Victoria Galletta, Registered Kinesiologist

     According to the Canadian Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in Canadian women. Typical cancer treatments can include surgery (removal of cancerous tissue and surrounding tissues, which can include the lymph nodes), hormonal, radiation and chemotherapy. The lymph nodes are an important structure to assist the vascular system in removing, filtering excess fluid and transporting waste products out of the body. Lymphedema is when the lymphatic system can no longer keep up with the body in removing excess fluid (lymphatic load) and presents as swelling.

 

     Schmitz et al. found that a progressive weight training program decreased lymphedema symptoms and incidences of exacerbation. Tidhar and Katz-Leurer found that an aquatic exercise program was also effective in decreasing lymphedema.

 

How it helps:

  • Hydrostatic pressure will provide a consistent pressure on the vessels to assist the lymph nodes in removing the excess fluid
  • The buoyancy of the water will support the upper extremities and allow for easier movement of the limbs and increase lymphatic flow via muscle contraction.
 

Things to keep in mind:

  • If the water, air temperature and humidity are too high, they will encourage the body to vasodilate major vessels and actually encourage swelling 
            • Ambient air temperature > 29C (85F)
            • Humidity >60%
            • Water temperature >32C (90F)
  • If the water, air temperature and humidity are too high, they will encourage the body to vasodilate major vessels and actually encourage swelling 
  • Water depth to the clavicle to optimize the lymphatic drainage into major vessels due to the hydrostatic pressure of the water
  • Work on diaphragmatic breathing while performing exercise program to mechanically assist with the lymphatic flow

References: 

Canadian Cancer Society, Ambroza and Geigle Aquatic Exercise as a Management Tool for Breast Cancer – Related Lymphedema Top Geriatr Rehabil. 2010; 26(2):120-127

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