Today is World Cancer Day, and with millions affected by cancer every year, it is likely we all know someone who has suffered either directly or indirectly from it. Fortunately, we live in a time where cancer treatment is constantly improving, and we are better equipped than ever to deal with it.
However, sometimes complications can arise from cancer treatment itself. One such condition is called lymphedema, which refers to swelling in the arms or legs that is commonly caused by the removal of or damage to the lymph nodes as part of cancer treatment.
While there is no cure for lymphedema, it can be managed with proper treatment. Recently, there has been promising evidence that aquatic therapy can have major benefits for people afflicted the illness.
What is Lymphedema?
Lymph nodes contain a fluid filled with white blood cells, and when they are removed or damaged during cancer treatment surgery this fluid can collect in the arms or in other parts of the body causing lymphedema through swelling. Lymphedema is a chronic condition that can cause pain, discomfort and limit physical movement.
During breast cancer surgery, lymphedema can develop when lymph nodes in the underarm area are removed and checked for cancerous cells. Lymphedema can also be the result of blocked lymphatic vessels after radiation therapy.
There is no sure way to prevent lymphedema, but your risk can be reduced through exercise and proper skin care.
Benefits of Hydrotherapy
Hydrotherapy, or aquatic therapy, is the medicinal use of water, methods can include underwater walking or running, cold and hot water treatments, water exercises and more. For centuries, water has been used to relieve pain, treat ailments and to promote relaxation – and today it is still commonly used for these purposes in many different applications.
By improving circulation, hydrotherapy can strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation, heal injured tissue and give the body energy. In addition to the physical health benefits, hydrotherapy can assist with your mental well-being through the production of endorphins, tension relief and other relaxing effects.
Hydrotherapy Treatment for Lymphedema
Hydrotherapy exercising allows people with limited mobility or chronic pain to build strength without putting too much stress on the body, making it ideal for lymphedema treatment. The buoyancy of water creates an effect on the musculoskeletal system that makes moving more comfortable. Warm water hydrotherapy pools relax the muscles, increase flexibility and range of motion, and can assist people in getting aerobic exercise despite their physical limitations. However, very warm or hot water should be avoided by lymphedema patients as the heat can worsen their symptoms.
The hydrostatic pressure of hydrotherapy is especially effective for people with lymphedema because it generates a compressive effect on the body that reduces swelling. This water pressure can also remove the need for compression sleeves, which are another common remedy for treating swelling. In addition, hydrostatic pressure provides resistance that strengthens muscles and improves cardiac and respiratory conditioning.
Pool Exercises for Lymphedema
Here are some recommended pool exercises for treating lymphedema:
- Walking in the water
- Relax and walk slowly in the water for five to ten minutes, focusing on abdominal breathing. The more relaxed you are, the better it is for your lymphatic system.
- For additional strength and stability training, try walking sideways and backward.
- Incorporate arm movements such as swinging or power walking.
- Shoulder rolls
- Stand with the water up to your shoulders, relax and let your arms float on the water.
- Roll your shoulders up, back, down and forward and let your arms follow.
- Repeat in reverse.
- Hand pressing
- Press the palms of your hands together on the surface of the water and release.
- While standing against a wall, stretch your arms and legs.
- Practice intentional breathing.
- Alternate breathing through your abdomen and through your chest.
Treatments like hydrotherapy offer hope to those who suffer from lymphedema and have had trouble managing their symptoms. Through the many powerful therapeutic benefits of water, hydrotherapy can significantly improve the quality of life for many.