Fighting lymphedema with weights

September 15, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

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Gym2After breast cancer surgery comes lymphedema, a complication that is painful and incurable. Lymphedema is a swelling in the arm that is disabling and painful and can rob breast cancer survivors full use of their arms. About 70% of breast cancer survivors suffer from this condition which can range from mild to severe.

To prevent the occurrence of lymphedema, women who underwent breast cancer surgery are usually advised against performing activities that require arm exercise – including carrying a baby. However, this practice has its downside – it leads to the weakening of muscles and bones of the arm. And a weakened arm can in turn lead to lymphedema. A vicious cycle for the breast cancer survivor. In addition, other conditions can also develop from to lack of exercise, namely loss of bone mass and osteoporosis, and excess weight gain.

A new study published in the latest issue New England Journal of Medicine reported that women actually need not “put their arm in a box.”

By following a carefully designed strength training program of the arm, women can build muscle power while reducing the risk of painful lymphedema flare ups by half.

According to Anna Schwartz, an affiliate professor of nursing at the University of Washington and author of Cancer Fitness

“For many years, we’ve told women not to lift anything heavier than a handbag. This is the first really well-designed study that demonstrates that women can do a lot more than we thought.”

Indeed, this is encouraging for breast cancer survivors. Imagine what you can do with a strong arm – hold your grandchild, play the violin again, even use the vacuum cleaner.

The researchers followed up 141 lymphedema patients with an average age in the mid-50s. Half of the patients underwent structured weight-lifting training, half of the patients had no training. By the end of the course, those who trained were able to bench press an average of 53 pounds, representing a 29% improvement.

After a year, 14% of those who trained had recurrence of lymphedema. This may seem high but this is much lower compared to 29% recurrence rate among those who did not exercise.

It is important however for cancer survivors to work with trained instructors who can guide them the proper way of exercising without overdoing it and getting injured. Just like everything else, too much of a good thing (in this case exercise) can become bad.

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5 Responses to “Fighting lymphedema with weights”
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  5. Avril says:

    Hi ,
    GREAT !!!!
    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.Go through the Lymphedema advice to get a better treatment for the lymphedema.


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