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Lymphedema and Exercise

Posted 4/7/2013

Posted in

  Occasionally, there is a nice convergence of events. This entry arises from one of those moments. This morning at the gym, I was thinking (who knows why) about lymphedema and the sometimes contradictory advice about exercise and the risk of developing it. As I write this, I can see myself doing leg presses while watching a woman who was lying on the window sill, on a mat, doing arm lifts with small bar bells. I assume she was lying on the window sill, instead of the floor, as she wanted her arm to hang down. I don't think I have ever seen anyone do this before, and I was curious why she chose this position rather than standing up to do the lifts. I didn't ask her, so, unless one of you knows the answer and responds, this will remain a mystery. Anyhow, this moment happened, and then I came home and read this study about the possible impact of both heavy and light resistance exercises on the risk of developing lymphedema.

  Bottom line: neither makes a difference, so you can delete that particular excuse for not working out. Here is the abstract and a link to read the full study:

Neither Heavy nor Light Load

Resistance Exercise Acutely Exacerbates

Lymphedema in Breast Cancer Survivor





Prue Cormie, PhD


1, Daniel A. Galvão, PhD1, Nigel Spry, MBBS, PhD1,2,3,


and Robert U. Newton, PhD













Resistance exercise has great potential to aid in the management of breast cancer–related lymphedema (BCRL), but little

is known regarding the acute response of performing resistance exercises with the affected limb.



Purpose. To examine the


acute impact of upper body resistance exercise on the amount of swelling and severity of symptoms in women with BCRL

and to compare these effects between resistance exercise involving high and low loads (heavier vs lighter weights).





Seventeen women aged 61 ± 9 years with mild to severe BCRL participated in this study. Participants completed a high

load (6-8 repetition maximum) and low load (15-20 repetition maximum) exercise session consisting of 2 sets of 5 upper

body resistance exercises in a randomized order separated by a 10- to 12-day wash-out period. The extent of swelling was

assessed using bioimpedance spectroscopy, dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, and arm circumference measurements. The

severity symptoms were assessed using the visual analogue scale (pain, heaviness, and tightness) and a modified Brief Pain

Inventory. Measurements were taken pre-exercise, immediately post-exercise, 24 hours post-exercise, and 72 hours postexercise.








. No changes in the extent of swelling or the severity of symptoms were observed between pre-exercise


and immediately post-exercise, 24 hours post-exercise, or 72 hours post-exercise. No differences in the response to the

high or low load exercise were observed.



. No changes in the extent of swelling or the severity of symptoms were observed between pre-exercise

Conclusions. Upper body resistance exercise does not acutely increase swelling


or feelings of discomfort/pain, heaviness tightness in the affected limb of BCRL patients when performed at either high or

low loads.





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