The Benefits of Arm Exercises for Lymphedema Patients

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The Benefits of Arm Exercises for Lymphedema Patients

The arm(s) are among the most common sites affected by lymphedema. This chronic condition primarily affects women. Women who receive treatment for breast cancer often undergo radiation therapy or surgical removal of tissues to eradicate their tumors. Unfortunately, this often involves damaging, or surgically removing, one or more lymph nodes in the underarm area. And that can precipitate the onset of lymphedema.

Even worse, lymphedema can manifest months, or even years, after the conclusion of these treatments. That’s one reason doctors recommend women avoid injuries to the arm on the affected side of the body.

Arm Exercises Do Not Make Lymphedema Worse

It’s understandable, then, that some patients — and even doctors — are reluctant to recommend arm strengthening exercises. But evidence suggests that arm exercises might actually help rehabilitate the arm, making the onset of lymphedema less likely.

In fact, according to, a recent study found that among cancer survivors who had had five or more lymph nodes removed, there was a significantly lower incidence of subsequent lymphedema when a patient engaged in a program of gradual, progressive arm-strengthening exercises. In other words, engaging in a supervised program of gradually more challenging arm strengthening exercises helped to prevent lymphedema from occurring, even after the removal of five or more underarm lymph nodes.   

Appropriate exercises have the potential to help slow the progression of lymphedema, while also helping the patient to regain — and retain — strength and mobility.

Exercise Is Your PAL

In the aforementioned study, known as the Physical Activity and Lymphedema (PAL) trial, it’s interesting to note that women wore a custom-fitted compression garment on their arm(s) while weight lifting. Specially trained coaches supervised the lifting program at a nearby gym. Women performed weight-lifting exercises, beginning with one pound weights, and gradually increased the weight lifted, for 13 weeks.

The study also concluded that even among women who did develop lymphedema, the condition did not worsen after weight lifting. In fact, these women experienced some easing of lymphedema symptoms and less progression of the condition than women with lymphedema who did not engage in any exercises.

Follow Advice — And Wear Your Compression Sleeve

It’s now clear that engaging in structured arm-strengthening exercises after breast cancer treatments is a good idea. There’s a persistent fear that exercising an affected limb could make things worse, but that is not the case. On the contrary, exercise helps.

Note, however, that you should always wear a compression sleeve while lifting, even in the absence of current lymphedema, and you should start with small weights (approximately one pound), then gradually build to larger weights. Ask your healthcare provider for guidance before beginning your program of exercise. Be sure to visit our product catalog for all of your exercise compression garment needs!

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  1. Would these guidelines be the same with lymphedema following a hysterectomy?

    1. Generally exercising is good-with weights, low and slow is the way to go for both arms and legs, however the PAL trial was targeted to breast cancer Lymphedema only.

  2. Hi i desire information for the lower extremities and the stomach (truck) and i been trying to purchase the night sleep lower extremities compressions (legs) garments. And looking for items to elevate my legs.

    1. Hi Gwen,

      You need to contact a lymphedema therapist or visit the online store.

    2. Have you got a link to actual arm exercises please. The link you gave in an answer to someone else who asked this didn’t have exercises, it just talked about the benefits of them .. thank you.

  3. Thank you for your information. I was sent to rehab for an other condition and had therapy. It was helpful and have continued to exercise.

  4. ok, we get the info for arm lymphedema but I have lower leg lymphedema!
    where is your information about that, please?

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