Weight Lifting May Help to Avert Lymph Problem

The following is an excerpt from a NY Times article on weight lifting and lymphedema.

“After a woman has surgery for breast cancer, she is typically given a long list of don’ts. Don’t lift anything heavier than 15 pounds, including your child. Don’t carry a heavy purse or grocery bags. Don’t scrub, push, pull or hammer.”   Read full article

My patients are often shocked when we discuss exercise.  They say, “You want me to exercise?  But I was told I can never lift anything heavier than 10 lbs.”

Weight Lifting TherapyIf you are having breast surgery, your surgeon is going to restrict your activity for approximately three to six weeks.   Patients are often told they should not exercise or lift weights during this rest period.  This is normal, and it allows our body the time it needs to recover and heal.  But after this healing phase is complete, you should begin to return to your normal daily activities, including exercise.

This article focuses on a gradual return to activity and exercise for those with lymphedema.  A gradual return is important for lymphedema patients because the lymphatic system is a fragile, slow, and sluggish.  We believe a gradual return is important for all patients, not just those with lymphedema.  Too much exercise or stress can be overwhelming and shock the lymphatic system for anyone recovering from surgery that may impact the lymphatic system.  This could lead to swelling in the limb and increase the risk of lymphedema – something we obviously want to avoid.

We also agree with the article that light weight lifting is important.  However, we would also add that cardio-vascular activity is equally important because the lymphatic system and circulatory systems work together.  When you get your heart rate up, it kick starts the lymphatic system to pump, cleansing fluid throughout the body.  This is obviously highly desirable for lymphedema patients, as well as those that are at risk.

Radiation and chemotherapy can cause setbacks, so it is important that you get clearance from your surgeon before you return to activity and exercise.  However, when you do get clearance, we encourage you to begin the rehabilitation process as soon as possible.  Remember to listen to your body, and be careful not to overextend yourself.