Electrical Stimulation in the Treatment of Lymphedema and Associated Skin Ulcers

Lymphat Res Biol. 2020 Jun;18(3):270-276. doi: 10.1089/lrb.2019.0052. Epub 2019 Nov 20.


Background: Lymphedema is a disorder in which lymph accumulates in the interstitial spaces due to poor lymphatic flow resulting from hypoplasia or aplasia of the lymphatic vessels, or to morpho-functional alterations that impair lymphatic flow. Lymphedema is a debilitating condition associated initially with inflammation that then degenerates into hardening of affected tissues and the formation of ulcers on the skin of affected limbs. No definitive treatment is available. The only therapy for lymphedema consists of physiotherapy, surgery, and compression to reduce impairment, which only treats the symptoms, not the causes. A possible new therapy that could reinforce the treatment of lymphedema progression and complications is electrical stimulation (ES). Many studies underline the effects of electric currents on the different cell mechanisms associated with disease. Methods and Results: In this review, we summarize the effects of ES on the molecular and cellular processes involved in the pathophysiology of lymphedema, highlighting their therapeutic potential for edema reduction, ulcer repair, and restoration of lymphatic flow in vitro and in vivo. Conclusions: ES exerts its effect on the main stages that characterize lymphedema, from its onset to ulcer formation. There are few evidences on lymphatic models and more molecular studies are needed to understand the mechanism of action of this application in the treatment of lymphedema.

Keywords: electrical stimulation (ES); lymphedema; molecular pathways; trophin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electric Stimulation Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Lymph
  • Lymphatic Vessels*
  • Lymphedema* / complications
  • Lymphedema* / therapy
  • Skin Ulcer* / etiology
  • Skin Ulcer* / therapy