Strength Training Reduces the Risk of Lymphedema

Some health experts advises women to stay away from lifting weights and performing repetitive arm movements so that they won’t suffer from lymphedema , a possible side effect of breast cancer treatments. However, a new study about the disease suggests that strength training will help women prevent the complication.

A patient with lymphedema
A patient with lymphedema

Lymphedema is a symptom of system trauma, which may become impaired if lymph nodes are damaged by radiation or surgically removed. The complications start when lymph cannot drain out of the arm; the build-up of fluid causes swelling, tightness and heaviness in the limb, which become the reason for the arm to loss its function. The new study proves that strength training can improve the condition.

According to the study, that got published in the New England Journal of Medicine in August 2009, people who lift weights doesn’t have many problem because of their muscle tone and endurance. Progressive weight lifting gradually improves the condition and the capacity of the affected arm to lift the weight.

For the study, participants were asked to work out twice a week for one year. Fitness instructor had taught the participants on how to lift weight properly so that it would lessen the occurrence of injuries from happening. The participants had to wear a compression sleeve around the limb at risk and were monitored periodically by a lymphedema specialist.

For the upper-body exercises, the participants were taught how to do the seated row, chest press, lateral or front raises, biceps curls and triceps push-downs. Each exercise had to be performed three sets with ten repetitions. Women can lift as much weight she wants.

Other exercises that the participants were asked to do were a cardiovascular warm up, stretching, and abdominal, back and lower body exercises. Most of the stretches were told to focus on the chest and shoulders, since tightness in the pectoral area and decreased shoulder mobility can both interfere with normal lymph drainage. There should be a full range of motion in these areas before starting to strengthen them.

At the end of the study, participants who belong to the control group become stronger. More surprisingly, in that time only nine exercisers had a flare up as opposed to nineteen non-exercisers. Furthermore, the weight-lifters experienced less severe symptoms. Some of the additional stated benefits were improvements in mobility, balance and coordination.

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