Weight Lifting in Patients With Lower-Extremity Lymphedema Secondary to Cancer: A Pilot and Feasibility Study

Elana Katz, Nicole L. Dugan, Joy C. Cohn, Christina Chu, Rebecca G. Smith, Kathryn H. Schmitz

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Katz E, Dugan NL, Cohn JC, Chu C, Smith RG, Schmitz KH. Weight lifting in patients with lower-extremity lymphedema secondary to cancer: a pilot and feasibility study. Objective: To assess the feasibility of recruiting and retaining cancer survivors with lower-limb lymphedema into an exercise intervention study. To develop preliminary estimates regarding the safety and efficacy of this intervention. We hypothesized that progressive weight training would not exacerbate leg swelling and that the intervention would improve functional mobility and quality of life. Design: Before-after pilot study with a duration of 5 months. Setting: University of Pennsylvania. Participants: Cancer survivors with a known diagnosis of lower-limb lymphedema (N=10) were directly referred by University of Pennsylvania clinicians. All 10 participants completed the study. Intervention: Twice weekly slowly progressive weight lifting, supervised for 2 months, unsupervised for 3 months. Main Outcome Measures: The primary outcome was interlimb volume differences as measured by optoelectronic perometry. Additional outcome measures included safety (adverse events), muscle strength, objective physical function, and quality of life. Results: Interlimb volume differences were 44.4% and 45.3% at baseline and 5 months, respectively (pre-post comparison, P=.70). There were 2 unexpected incident cases of cellulitis within the first 2 months. Both resolved with oral antibiotics and complete decongestive therapy by 5 months. Bench and leg press strength increased by 47% and 27% over 5 months (P=.001 and P=.07, respectively). Distance walked in 6 minutes increased by 7% in 5 months (P=.01). No improvement was noted in self-reported quality of life. Conclusions: Recruitment of patients with lower-limb-lymphedema into an exercise program is feasible. Despite some indications that the intervention may be safe (eg, a lack of clinically significant interlimb volume increases over 5mo), the unexpected finding of 2 cellulitic infections among the 10 participants suggests additional study is required before concluding that patients with lower-extremity lymphedema can safely perform weight lifting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1070-1076
Number of pages7
JournalArchives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation


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