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How To Prevent And Control Lymphedema

Try To Avoid Muscle Strain

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© American Cancer Society 2010

It's important to use your affected arm for normal everyday activities to help you to heal properly and regain strength. This includes doing things like brushing your hair and bathing. Using your muscles also helps drain lymph fluid from the limbs. If you've had surgery or radiation treatment, ask your doctor or nurse when you can begin to exercise and what type of exercises you can do. But keep in mind that overuse, which can result in injury, has been linked with the start of lymphedema in some women. It's a good idea to follow these tips:

  • Use your affected arm as normally as you can. Once you are fully healed, about 4 to 6 weeks after surgery or radiation treatment, you can begin to go back to the activities you did before your surgery.
  • Exercise regularly but try not to over-tire your shoulder and arm. Before doing any strenuous exercise, such as lifting weights or playing tennis, talk with your doctor, nurse, or physical therapist. They can help you set goals and limits so that you can work at the level of activity that is right for you. Ask your doctor or physical therapist if you should be fitted for a sleeve to wear during strenuous activities.
  • If your arm starts to ache, lie down and raise it above the level of your heart.
  • Avoid vigorous, repeated activities, heavy lifting, or pulling.
  • Use your unaffected arm or both arms as much as possible to carry heavy packages, groceries, handbags, or children.


NOTE FROM SURVIVORSHIP A TO Z for: Breast Cancer Survivors: According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, breast cancer survivors who lift weights are less likely to develop lymphedema. The women in the study lifted weights regularly after surgery - first under the guidance of trained fitness instructors and then on their own.

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