exercise & lymphedema

Lymph Drainage and Exercise
In the past if you had damage to the lymph nodes due to surgery, radiation or chemo, your medical team would have advised you to avoid lifting any object heavier than 5 lbs. Current research suggests that restricting the amount ofof weight lifted may not result in developing lymphedema.

The Lymph System
The lymph system transports waste from the body, aids the circulatory system in delivering nutrients and helps the body to guard against disease.The fluid moved is call the lymph. Lymph nodes, spleen, tonsils and Peyer's Patches are part of this system. Lymph flows up, moving from feet and hands, to the subclavian veins. If nodes have been removed or damaged the lymph may become stagnant causing the surrounding tissue to swell resulting in lymphedema.

Exercise causes contraction of the muscles. When muscles contract they stimulate lymphatic flow.Resistance exercise is perfect for increased flow; muscles contract and lengthen. Mind-body exercise can also aid in lymphatic flow through the contractions of  the lungs and diaphragm.

How to Begin
First and foremost, your medical team should provide clearance. If you have lymphedema, wear a compression garment. Take measurements in the arm just above the wrist, 5” above the wrist fold and 5” above the elbow fold. If you notice any change in the measurements after exercise, touch base with your medical team. You'll monitor by watching for any redness, swelling or feeling of heaviness.

You'll start with one set of exercises covering  the major muscle groups and alternate upper body with lower body.  If you're using machines: leg press; chest press; back row; overhead press; bicep curls; triceps extensions; and, back extensions.  An opposite arm leg raise on all fours will target your back extensors and the pilates knee fold will strengthen the abdominals.  Begin with light weights, 1-2 lbs for the upper body, and the lowest plate setting for the leg press.  Complete 8-12 repetitions of the exercise.  If after several exercise sessions there are no side effects, you may increase the weight by approximately 5%.  Add stretches for each of the muscle groups you just worked, and, your workout is complete.