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Compression Sleeve for Long Flights?

dsc Member Posts: 50


I do not have lymphedema post lumpectomy and sentinel lymph node removal (May 2023). 

However I did end up with painful cording a few weeks after surgery which subsided with physio and massage.  

The lymphedema specialist (who I proactively consulted) said the arm sleeve might be beneficial and wouldn’t hurt during my 9 hour flight. The breast surgeon, though, suggested I don’t wear it. He said to avoid developing lymphedema we are supposed to avoid tight things on our affected arm, so why would I wear a tight compression sleeve?

Now I don’t know what to do! I bought the compression sleeve and gauntlet ($235!) but I’m not sure if I’ll use it. This is obviously a difficult decision. And ultimately a personal one. I wish there was clear cut evidence one way or the other but nope, just not possible! I really despise you breast cancer!! 

Does anyone have any input? Thank you in advance!


  • elainetherese
    elainetherese Member Posts: 1,632

    I had a lumpectomy, plus all 20 of my Levels 1 and 2 lymph nodes removed nine years ago and have never developed lymphadema. I've flown dozens of times since my surgery and have never worn a compression sleeve and gauntlet. I wouldn't bother, but I'm sorry you forked out $235 for equipment. Good luck!

  • exbrnxgrl
    exbrnxgrl Member Posts: 5,054
    edited September 2023

    The question of compression sleeves is interesting and continues to be somewhat controversial. Your breast surgeon is completely uninformed about how compression sleeves work! They are not simply a tight garment. When you have been properly measured and fitted, the garment features different levels of (graduated)compression designed to move lymphatic fluid. At this point, I wouldn’t give much credence to his opinion.
    Your LE specialist has fitted you properly but here’s the controversy; some studies have shown that in certain circumstances the sleeve is not necessary so not all LE specialists recommend a sleeve but some do. As to the expense, many insurers do cover medically prescribed compression garments so you might check to see if they’ll reimburse you. Lastly, what happened to me or other members with respect to LE is in no way predictive of your situation. Folks have developed LE with only one node taken, some have not developed LE with many nodes taken. For the record, I had 15 nodes removed. My LE is very mild and not visibly noticeable but I feel a heaviness in my upper arm occasionally. Because it’s so mild, and I want it to stay that way, I do wear a sleeve/gauntlet when I fly. My LE remains stable. Is that due to the sleeve? No way to really know but I continue to use it* Take care and discuss your concerns with your LE specialist, not a surgeon .

    *Flying is the only time I wear it.

  • serendipity09
    serendipity09 Member Posts: 769

    @dsc I have a very mild case of LE after having four lymph nodes removed during BMX in 2020. I consulted with my LE specialist and reached out to another just for a second opinion, along with BS and all told me not to wear one. I travel quite often and have not had any issues, thus far, thankfully. I know that everyone's body is different and reacts differently. I was really on the fence about purchasing the sleeve/gauntlet and in the end decided not to. Had I bought them, I would at least have the peace of mind that I have them in the event it gets worse. I still think about and may end up buying them at some point 🤷🏼‍♀️ It's a double edge sword.

    Breast cancer is a crapshoot and you just never know what comes with it.

    Best wishes!!

  • moderators
    moderators Posts: 8,286

    Hi @dsc, in addition to the helpful posts you received above, we wanted to point you to our Podcast on Lymphedema 101 which addresses a couple of your questions, including this from the transcript:

    Jamie Depolo: A lot of people who are at risk of lymphedema or have lymphedema are very concerned about flying because of the pressure in the airplane and the change in pressure. What does the research show now? What are your recommendations for that?

    Marcia Beck: There is not a lot of research about air travel and compression or air compression changes in the plane. However, we do recommend those patients that have had the axillary lymph node dissection, that they do wear a compression sleeve for air travel. Applying it maybe 30 minutes before you get on the plane, wear it throughout the flight, then as you’re exiting the flight leave it on for another 30 minutes or so prior to taking it off.

    We hope this helps!

    —The Mods

  • cookie54
    cookie54 Member Posts: 750

    @dsc Hey just to chime in here I am much like @exbrnxgrl and have a mild case and only wear to fly. I also have been told if flight is 2 hours, wear 2 hours prior , during flight then 2 hours after. So essentially depends on your flight time how long you wear it. I know there are various opinions on this.

    Regarding paying for it, did you submit to insurance? I was lucky enough to have it paid by my insurance. Thought perhaps you could submit for reimbursement?

  • dsc
    dsc Member Posts: 50

    Thank you all so much for this valuable information. I will sit on the fence a while longer as I have three weeks before my flight.

    If it didn’t do any harm, to wear the garment, I might wear it seeing as I have it. But now that my surgeon says it could be harmful (can I trust his knowledge, maybe not), I’m more concerned about wearing it.

    Breast cancer you are absolute 💩

    Thank you again and please continue to chime in.