Cormie, P., Pumpa, K., Galvao, D.A., Turner, E., Spry, N., Saunders, C., … Newton, R.U. (2013). Is it safe and efficacious for women with lymphedema secondary to breast cancer to lift heavy weights during exercise: A randomised controlled trial. Journal of Cancer Survivorship, 7, 413–424.doi: 10.1007/s11764-013-0284-8
To compare the effects of high and low weight load resistance exercise on lymphedema severity, symptoms, physical function and quality of life in women with breast cancer
Patients were randomly assigned to one of three groups: high load resistance exercise, low load resistance exercise, or a wait list usual care control group. Both exercise programs involved six exercises targeting the major upper body muscle groups. Intensity was moderate to high on the Borg scale. Sessions were done for 60 minutes once per week for three months and were supervised by an exercise physiologist. Patients chose whether or not to wear compression garments during exercise. Patients were instructed to maintain usual self care and activity. Outcome measures were obtained at baseline and at three months post intervention.
This was a single-site, outpatient study conducted in Australia.
This study has clinical applicability for late effects and survivorship.
This was a single-blind, randomized controlled trial.
The following measurement tools were used.
No lymphedema exacerbations or adverse events were reported. No differences across groups were found in change of swelling outcome measures or symptom severity. A nonsignificant trend toward greater improvement in grip strength was noted. Significant improvement was reported in upper body muscle endurance in both exercise groups compared to controls (p=.001). Physical functioning measurement showed significant improvement in both exercise groups compared to controls, in which the measure showed decline (p = 0.04). A fourth of the patients used compression garments during exercise.
Findings showed that women with breast cancer-related lymphedema can safely lift weight at both low and high relative load. Moderate- to high-intensity exercise may be beneficial to improve physical functioning.
This study adds to the growing body of evidence that weight lifting and high or low load resistance exercise can be safe for patients with lymphedema. Of note, the evidence in this area includes only supervised weight lifting.