I am not a doctor, only a Lymphatic Fanatic. I am a 10-year breast cancer survivor with Lymphedema in my right arm. I am one of the 30% of women who will get Lymphedema as a result of a compromised lymphatic system due to surgery, removal of lymph nodes, and radiation. In fact, all breast cancer patients and survivors are at risk if their lymphatic system has been compromised from any of the aforementioned treatments for breast cancer. I know this because I have done my research. Like some of you, I have thoroughly researched everything to death!
Research can be good. Being an informed patient is tantamount to recovery. Being your best advocate and striving for risk reduction and prevention of further disease and illness is our global goal and responsibility.
Like everyone else, I have a busy life and many goals. One of my goals is to exercise more because we all know that exercise plays a huge part in lowering our risk of recurrence. But does exercise conflict with people who have Lymphedema? Is it recommended that we not do “too much?”
While it is true that not all individuals who have had lymph node disruption (surgical or radiological) will develop Lymphedema, until physicians can better predict who is at greater risk for Lymphedema, a slow and progressive approach to exercise is advisable. In fact, working up to a level of exercise that promotes fitness while avoiding exacerbating the Lymphedema is a good goal.
Exercise for Lymphedema may be beneficial, however the question is how much is too much? That is very individual. It is important that any exercise program be gradually progressed to avoid sprain/strain. More importantly, a slow progression allows the individual to monitor their affected limb or limb at risk for any sensation of aching or fullness that could indicate an overwhelming of the lymphatic system. I love yoga. That is my favorite exercise. Sometimes, however, I notice my arm swells more or begins to feel heavier than usual. It is at those moments that I reel myself in and weigh the benefits of either changing my pose to accommodate my arm or possibly suffer consequences of too much strain and eventual additional swelling. Over the past years, I have learned my body and specifically the cues it sends me. We all must learn and listen to our own bodies.
One fact is certain…. exercise for Lymphedema is best done with compression on the affected limb. Compression garments actually provide a new "tight" skin for the muscles to contract against, assisting in pumping the lymph out of the extremity into the central circulation. When Lymphedema exists, the remaining lymph vessels that are functioning are working double time to try to carry the load. Wearing compression bandages/garments provides support to the skin and to the lymphatic vessels directly under the skin, called the superficial lymphatic network. It is these vessels that help to carry the load when the larger vessels have been cut away from the lymph nodes or have been damaged.
Cancer gave me a whole “New Me.” I may not be able to play tennis anymore, but I can certainly achieve my exercise goals nevertheless. Become informed about Lymphedema if you are at risk. Recognize that certain types of exercise are considered higher risk than others for individuals with Lymphedema. For example, high speed activities like tennis, bowling and racquetball, place more stress on our arms. In my case, tennis was “too much” for my affected arm.
Unfortunately, even the guidelines put forth in the “Risk Reduction Guidelines” of most Lymphedema Centers and Research Facilities are “anecdotal” at the present time, because of the lack of controlled double-blind studies to prove their efficacy. In addition, some medical professionals have taken the position that the individual with a limb at risk (or with Lymphedema) should go ahead and pursue whatever exercise/activity they wish and "see what happens.” What they fail to tell us is that, Lymphedema is a chronic condition, which, presently, has no cure.
So as you strive for a better “you,” strive to be informed about Lymphedema and ways to lower your risk as it pertains to exercise. Always be aware of your arm and any possible changes after exercising and for goodness sake, wear your compression garment!
Peace and Veggies,
Carolyn I. Newman
(Carolyn is the President of Warrior Wear, Inc. (www.warriorwear4u.com), and graciously shared this post with us.)*
*Here for the Girls is grateful for our guest bloggers and by sharing their experiences is not promoting or endorsing any particular products or services.