Aqua lymphatic therapy is a form of movement therapy for women suffering from lymphedema due to breast-cancer treatment. Recent research has shown that this modality results in significant immediate improvements in limb volume, along with increased quality of life and adherence rates.

“Aqua lymphatic therapy in women who suffer from breast cancer treatment-related lymphedema: a randomized controlled study” involved 48 women about age 56, all of whom suffered from mild to moderate lymphedema as the result of breast-cancer treatments.

Participants were randomly assigned to either the control group or intervention group. Those in the control group were instructed to continue performing regular self-care for the lymphedema.

Subjects in the intervention group continued with prescribed self-care and also attended a 45-minute session of aqua lymphatic therapy once a week for three months. These sessions took place in small groups in a hydrotherapy pool. Subjects performed gentle exercises in a precise sequence, based on the anatomic principles of the lymphatic system. The viscosity of the water provides resistance to these movements.

Adherence to the aqua lymphatic therapy, as compared to self-care, was one of the study’s main outcome measures, and it was assessed by a self-reported diary. Limb volume also was evaluated, prior to and at the end of the study, as well as before and after each session of aqua lymphatic therapy in the intervention group. The Upper Limb Lymphedema Questionnaire was used to measure each subject’s quality of life at the start and end of the study.

Researchers discovered the aqua lymphatic therapy had a positive statistically and clinically significant immediate effect on limb volume, but there was no noted long-term effect.

The rate of adherence to aqua lymphatic therapy was significantly higher than the adherence to self-management therapy, according to the results of this study. Quality of life also improved for the intervention group as opposed to the control group.

“[Aqua lymphatic therapy] was found to be a safe method, with high adherence, in treating women who suffer from mild to moderate lymphedema,” state the study’s authors. “A significant immediate and insignificant long-term effect on limb volume was noted.”

Authors: Dorit Tidhar and Michael Katz-Leurer.

Sources: Department of Physical Therapy, Maccabi Healthcare Services, Netivot, Israel; Department of Physical Therapy, School of Health Professions, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel. Originally published online in Support Care Cancer (June 2009).