Weight Lifting May Be Helpful for Lymphedema

In breast cancer survivors with lymphedema, it reduces symptoms, does not increase swelling

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- In women with breast cancer-related lymphedema, weight lifting has no significant effect on limb swelling and results in reduced symptoms and fewer lymphedema exacerbations, according to a study in the Aug. 13 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Kathryn H. Schmitz, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, and colleagues performed a randomized controlled trial of 141 breast cancer survivors with stable lymphedema of the arm. Participants were assigned to a twice-weekly progressive weight lifting group or a control group.

The researchers found that 11 percent of women in the weight lifting group and 12 percent in the control group had an increase of 5 percent or more in limb swelling. The weight lifting group had greater improvements than the control group in severity of lymphedema symptoms and upper- and lower-body strength. They also had a lower incidence of lymphedema exacerbations than the control group (14 versus 29 percent).

"Contrary to common guidelines to avoid lifting with the affected limb, we found that weight lifting did not significantly affect the severity of breast cancer-associated lymphedema," the authors write. "In addition, weight lifting reduced the number and severity of arm and hand symptoms, increased muscular strength, and reduced the incidence of lymphedema exacerbations as assessed by a lymphedema specialist."

BSN Medical provided compression garments for study participants to wear, and the two YMCA facilities where weight lifting sessions took place provided discounted membership fees for participants.

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Andrea Mongler

Andrea Mongler

Published on August 12, 2009

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