Background: The postthrombotic syndrome (PTS) occurs frequently after deep venous thrombosis (DVT) and is believed to worsen with upright posture and physical activity. However, the effects of exercise in patients with previous DVT have not been studied.
Study objectives: To determine whether previous DVT and PTS limit the ability to exercise, and whether exercise increases the severity of venous symptoms and signs.
Design and setting: A repeated-measures cohort study that was conducted at a university-affiliated teaching hospital, 1999–2000.
Participants: Subjects with a first episode of unilateral DVT at least 1 year earlier were recruited from the Thrombosis Clinic (total, 41 subjects; with PTS, 19 subjects).
Intervention: Treadmill exercise session.
Measurements and results: Venous symptoms, calf muscle fatigability, flexibility, and leg volume before and after treadmill exercise were measured and compared. Exercise did not worsen venous symptoms, despite a higher gain in affected leg volume in subjects with PTS vs subjects without PTS (mean difference: affected leg, 53 mL; unaffected leg, −15 mL; p = 0.018). Calf flexibility significantly improved after exercise in subjects with PTS (gastrocnemius: affected-unaffected, PTS vs no PTS + 4.5°, p = 0.0029; soleus: affected-unaffected, PTS vs no PTS + 5.7°, p = 0.0011).
Conclusions: Exercise did not acutely exacerbate symptoms and, in subjects with PTS, resulted in improved flexibility in the affected leg. Our findings suggest that treadmill or similar exercise is unlikely to make symptoms of PTS worse, and may improve flexibility. Further study is indicated to determine whether a regular exercise-training program might have a role in the management of patients with PTS, since, to date, the treatment options for this condition are limited.