In a recent study conducted at Institute of Applied Dermatology (IAD), Kerala; researchers demonstrated the constructive effect of Yoga in curing breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL). This protocol explains how yoga and breathing can be used as a self-care intervention for BCRL. The study was published in "International Journal of Yoga".
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women. Lymphedema is a potential side effect of breast cancer surgery and radiation therapy. More than 40% of women treated for breast cancer develops lymphedema, a chronic condition in which fluid accumulates in the interstitial space and causes enlargement in the limb. After surgical removal of lymph nodes, BCRL usually occurs in the arm and hand, but sometimes it affects the breast, underarm, chest, trunk, and/or back. At present, modern medicine doesn't have a targeted cure for this chronic condition.
In an attempt to treat BCRL by Yoga and breathing exercises, a pilot trial was conducted in eight BCRL patients who attended the Institute of Applied Dermatology's (IAD) integrative lymphedema clinic. The aim was to develop a self-care yoga protocol for upperlimb lymphedema to achieve the desired range of movements, reducing fibrosis, and improving lymph drainage. A team from IAD designed the treatment procedure which included: Counseling, ayurvedic oil massage of affected limb, yoga, and compression bandaging. Different Yoga exercises were designed for two sessions i.e. prior to compression bandage and after compression bandage.
Selection of yoga exercises were based on their role in chest expansion, method of breathing, maximizing range of movements: flexion of muscles, maximum stretch of skin, and thus part-by-part lymph drainage. Based on the above criteria, 20 yoga and 5 breathing exercises were adopted. Dr. S. R. Narahari, Director at IAD, said, "developing protocols for patient care for such a disease was challenging because it involves in-depth studies of what is already known and applying them to get positive results." Lymphedema patients were unable to perform complete range of arm movements due to the inactivity, pain, and weight of the limb. Therefore, alternate postures and support of the limb were developed for the patients who were unable to perform proper yoga. Detailed version of all asanas are available in the journal article.
The breakthrough pilot study showed that after continuous practice of yoga and compression at home for 3 months, all the eight patients were tremendously benefited. The volume of accumulated lymph decreased as well as patients showed improvement in the range of movement.
Study author Dr. Narahari said: "Institute of Applied Dermatology is the only centre that is working towards integrative dermatology using Ayurveda and other Indian Systems of Medicine." Lymphedema elicits daily stress and negative impact on breast cancer survivors' quality of life. This study identifies the yoga as a self-care tool to help BCRL patients. It offers an insightful understanding of the condition by providing clinically relevant and evidence based knowledge regarding lymphedema management with the intent to inform health-care professionals so that they can be better equipped to help patients.