Physical Therapy Helps Women Recover Arm Mobility After Lymph Node Surgery

Katie Kosko

Physical therapy could help women more quickly regain range of motion in their arms after lymph node dissection compared with education alone, according to new study results.

In a secondary analysis of the Lymphedema Education and Prevention study, a randomized- controlled trial designed to determine the benefits of a lymphedema prevention program, researchers randomized women from 41 sites to receive either education about post-surgery effects or education plus exercise.

The 253 women who received education only were given information about lymphedema signs and symptoms, as well as risk-reduction strategies. The 315 women who received education and the exercise component were given instructions for arm stretches and breathing moves, as well as a visit with a physical therapist.

Through self-administered surveys, patients reported how well they could reach with each arm before surgery and at 12 and 18 months after surgery.

Before surgery, women in the exercise group were less likely to report full range of motion for both arms compared with the education-only group, with 58 percent versus 75 percent for the left arm and 57 percent versus 76 percent for the right arm, respectively.

At 12 months, women in the exercise group reported greater range of motion compared with the education-only group, with an improvement of 91 percent versus 84 percent in the left arm and 90 percent versus 83 percent in the right arm, respectively.

By 18 months, 93 percent of women in both groups reported full range of motion in both arms.
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