Objectives: We performed a systematic review to assess the benefits or risks of physical activity in patients with an acute or previous DVT of the leg.
Data sources: PubMed, EMBASE and Science Citation Index were searched without language restrictions up to July 2007. Bibliographies of retrieved articles and personal files were also searched.
Review methods: Randomized trials and prospective cohort studies that included patients with acute or previous DVT, described an exercise intervention or exercise exposure, and described any related clinical outcome were selected. Data were independently extracted by 2 investigators.
Results: Seven randomized trials and two prospective observational studies were included. Early exercise, compared with bed rest, was associated with a similar short-term risk of pulmonary embolism in patients with acute DVT and led to more rapid resolution of limb pain. In patients with acute DVT, a 6 month daily walking program led to similar degrees of vein recanalization and improvement in quality of life as controls. In patients with previous DVT, 30 min of vigorous treadmill exercise did not worsen venous symptoms and improved calf muscle flexibility; a 6 month exercise training program improved calf muscle strength and pump function; and high levels of physical activity at one month tended to be associated with reduced severity of postthrombotic symptoms during the subsequent 3 months.
Conclusions: Early walking exercise is safe in patients with acute DVT and may help to reduce acute symptoms. Exercise training does not increase leg symptoms acutely in patients with a previous DVT and may help to prevent or improve the postthrombotic syndrome.