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Arm Exercises Help With Lymphedema

By August 20, 2009

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pole walking
Pole Walking
Illustration © Pam Stephan

When my lymph nodes were sampled during my lumpectomy, my left arm could not process the lymphatic fluid as well.  My surgeon sent me home saying, "No lifting with that arm - no heavy purse on that shoulder - no exercising with it - no blood pressure cuffs over there - no needles for anything in that arm!  You could develop a case of lymphedema.  Go home and take it easy."  That was 7 years ago, and things sure have changed!

Several new studies, including one done in Sweden and one published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that when breast cancer patients followed a program of gentle weight lifting, they had less problems with arm lymphedema - a condition that results in swelling and discomfort, and is often hard to remedy.  This surprised the researchers, who were expecting that even gentle exercise would cause, not help, with lymphedema.

Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, who teaches behavioral science at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, wrote an editorial stating that recommendations for rehabilitation should be formulated in place of the traditional restrictions.  “Give them the rehab and the exercise training they need after their treatment.”  This attitude agrees with the old adage that you should "use it or lose it" which can apply to many health scenarios, such as recovery from back surgery or heart attack, and now it can be applied to arm lymphedema.

Now, don't run right out to your local gym and head for the weights room!  Discuss your exercise plans with your doctor, and ask about rehabilitation clinics or physical therapists that specialize in lymphedema.  You should start out with small free weights, and if no swelling occurs, move up gradually to heavier weights.  A therapist or exercise coach can monitor you for swelling or other problems.  If you already have problems with arm lymphedma, see a lymphedema massage therapist and learn how massage and using a compression sleeve can help get that swelling down.

Here are some easy arm exercises to help with lymphedema.  If you're looking for a beneficial overall body workout that include arm exercise, try pole walking.  And if you're having trouble recovering shoulder motion after breast surgery, try these arm exercises for strength and flexibility.

Have you experienced arm lymphedema?  If you tried exercise as part of your recovery, leave a comment below and let me know how well it worked for you!

Comments
August 27, 2009 at 6:22 pm
(1) gillian says:

mmmm… interesting to see that the exercises recommend squeezing a ball. I have slight swelling following radiation for breast cancer and have been seeing a lymphedema expert every since I finished radiation three months ago.
And she said to me: “Whatever you do, don’t squeeze the ball like so many people suggest!”
So why is it being recommended? My oncology centre also provided it in a list of exercises for those recovering from breast surgery (I had no surgery but asked for the exercises anyway as did not want stiffness and restricted movement from the radiation).
What do other people find? Have they been told to squeeze the ball? Has it increased swelling?

August 27, 2009 at 7:29 pm
(2) Pam says:

Hello Gillian!
Thanks for posting your comment. I have re-posted it in my Forum
and hope several people will reply to this!

You’re right, it does get suggested for arm strength recovery as well as lymphedema.
Even the American Cancer Society recommends the Ball Squeeze.

Perhaps in your country, there is a different exercise, which works better.
If your therapist teaches you a different way to do this, or explains her reason for avoiding the Ball Squeeze, please let us know.
I’d be interested to learn more.

- Pam

September 22, 2009 at 6:49 am
(3) Avril says:

Hi Sarah,

This is Avril. My grand mother was suffered from lymphedema. I know how a person suffered from the lymphedema feels. After a long search on the treatment on lymphedema and swelling in the body, I found a book which is written by Peter Hodge. The book is based on his experience and 6 years of research on the lymphedema and its treatment. I make you sure that you will be benefit by this book. Go through the weblink lymphedema advice to get a proper treatment for the lymphedema.

Thanks and regards,
Avril

September 22, 2009 at 6:56 am
(4) Avril says:

Hi Sarah,

This is Avril. My grand mother was suffered from lymphedema. I know how a person suffered from the lymphedema feels. After a long search on the treatment on lymphedema and swelling in the body, I found a book which is written by Peter Hodge. The book is based on his experience and 6 years of research on the lymphedema and its treatment. I make you sure that you will be benefit by this book. Go through the web-link lymphedema advice to get a proper treatment for the lymphedema.

Thanks and regards,
Avril

September 22, 2009 at 7:37 am
(5) Avril says:

Hi ,

This is Avril. My grand mother was suffered from lymphedema. I know how a person suffered from the lymphedema feels. After a long search on the treatment on lymphedema and swelling in the body, I found a book which is written by Peter Hodge. The book is based on his experience and 6 years of research on the lymphedema and its treatment. I make you sure that you will be benefit by this book. Go through the web-link lymphedema advice to get a proper treatment for the lymphedema.

Thanks and regards,
Avril

July 2, 2011 at 4:53 am
(6) Marty Chamberlain says:

I had a soft tissue sarcoma removed from my right axilla 3 years ago, subsequently all of my lymph nodes on that side were removed. When I had recovered from my surgery, I went back to my normal life and normal the usage of my right arm.. I do gardening for other people, so am constantly sweeping, raking, and lifting heavy articles.. I have almost no problem with water retention in my right arm, I truly believe that using it is the best way to combat retention. I have friends that have had similar surgeries but in their lower extremities and they chose the don’t use it or strain it path, now they can barely walk. Their limbs are gigantic now, and they still refuse to take exercise. Use it or lose it I say.

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