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Topic: Figuring out how to safely exercise

Forum: Lymphedema — Risks, tips for prevention, and info about products that can address the symptoms of lymphedema.

Posted on: Jun 21, 2006 12:04PM

yankeedownsouth wrote:

Hi everyone - I'm trying to figure out how to safely exercise. I had 11 nodes taken from my right arm pit (and these were my sentinel nodes - they think I had about 40 in there). My surgeon of course says it's no big deal, but to me, 11 nodes causes lymphedema concern. I'm trying to figure out a way to safely exercise.

I know that typical weight training would be out. But I was wondering if anyone has any thoughts on exercising at Curves. Would this be a safe exercise? I want to keep fit, but I don't want to end up with lymphedema either.

I'd love some hints!
Dawn - Triple Neg, DX 3-06 at 37 years old Dx 3/2006, IDC, 1cm, Stage I, Grade 3, 0/11 nodes, ER-/PR-, HER2-
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Jun 21, 2006 01:55PM slanderson wrote:


I am not sure exactly where you are, but I am Austin/Round Rock, TExas. We have a group here called Move Through Cancer. They meet at different times during the week depending on your preference and exercise (walk, run, and exercises with bands, balls, etc.) with our special needs in mind. Plus all of the great people you meet are really interesting and inspiring. It is kind of like a support group, but not sitting around dwelling on it, but really doing something to help your health and chances for recovery. I'm not sure if they are in other locations or not, but I will try and find out.

Shannon Dx 7/13/2005, IDC, 1cm, Stage I, Grade 3, ER-/PR-, HER2-
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Jun 21, 2006 02:08PM Moi wrote:

I would not do Curves. My cousin used to manage one. What they do is constant repetition. They don't use weights so you are stuck with whatever tension or weight the machines are set on. And instead of adding more or less weight, they tell you to do more repetitions.

That's not good for anyone, with or without LE!

I am thinking of doing yoga and *maybe* trying to eventually get into Pilates if I end up doing well with the yoga. I've been working in the garden a lot, and if I overheat even for just a few minutes, I'm wiped out for the rest of the day. So heavy-duty exercise isn't going to cut it with me.
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Jun 21, 2006 05:47PM Jennifer wrote:

Actually I am doing Curves now. I did it once before I started reconstruction and now I am back to it. I do have lymphedema and wear my sleeve. There is one machine I do not use and I can just not use my right arm on another machine. But I actually enjoy it. The owner of the Curves I go to has educated herself about lymphedema and even introduced me to another lady who had breast cancer (no lymphedema). She told me she would not let me participate if I did not wear my sleeve. Went on to show me a book on exercises for people with lymphedema. She seems to have made this her pet project. She has notes all over my file and if I notice anything we will adjust for it. When I was going to PT one of the therapist went to Curves and said it was good to do. So far so good. It's not so much about how many reps you do because you are only at each station for thirty seconds and then you just move in place on a padded board in for thirty seconds and then move on to the next piece of equitment. I am slow but have gottne my heart beat up to wehere it needs tobe and I feel the sweat so I'm doing something right.

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Jun 22, 2006 09:35AM yankeedownsouth wrote:

Thank you everyone. One of the reasons I thought of Curves is that I thought the machines actually somehow adjusted to what your body can physically do. That's why my 59 year old mom could follow a 25 year old woman and not have adjust anything.

This is all just so frustrating. I hate having to figure out how to live my life safely when I'm only 37!!
Dawn - Triple Neg, DX 3-06 at 37 years old Dx 3/2006, IDC, 1cm, Stage I, Grade 3, 0/11 nodes, ER-/PR-, HER2-
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Jun 22, 2006 10:21AM Binney4 wrote:

And I hate it for you, too -- really does take some of the spontaneity out of life. But I am so glad you're doing well enough after treatment to be looking for ways to be fit and whole again. And it's always great to see women who are wise about trying to avoid the LE.

I'm not sure weight training is out. There's an experiment going on currently in PA with post-bc women with and without lymphedema (LE) in which they're testing the theory that bench pressing is good exercise for both preventing and controlling LE -- if it's done carefully and slowly. I'd guess that rugby is probably not in your future, but aside from that the important things to remember are to GO VERY SLOWLY with any new activity and PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR ARM AND CHEST. Signs of impending trouble during exercise would be any tingling, numbness, tiredness or aching. If you notice any of those, stop at once. You can go back to it later and try again, but the "no pain/no gain" philosophy is definitely out. (Hey! That's not all bad!)

It would really help, if you're able to, to get an appointment with a well-qualified LE therapist for baseline arm measurements and a Q&A session. Ask her about various activities you might be interested in and see if she can help you understand how to protect yourself without undue limitations. She might recommend a sleeve and glove for new or strenuous activities, or show you some preventive massage. All of that helps you take charge of your life again and not have to concentrate so hard on "what to avoid." Here's a link for finding a therapist near you:

All best!
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Jun 22, 2006 03:44PM yankeedownsouth wrote:

Binney - Thanks for the link!

Dawn - Triple Neg, DX 3-06 at 37 years old Dx 3/2006, IDC, 1cm, Stage I, Grade 3, 0/11 nodes, ER-/PR-, HER2-
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Jun 23, 2006 08:28AM andys wrote:

My therapist doesn't rule out anything. She just says to take it slowly and be aware of any signs that whatever you are doing is stressing your system - heaviness, etc. So, in terms of weight training or Curves, she would say to start slowly. If you have a sleeve and glove, be sure to wear it. If they say start with 8 reps, you should start with 4 and gradually increase. Likewise, add weight slowly, but she doesn't believe there's a specific limit. She recommended measuring my arm before and after exercising - 2 places in the upper arm, at the elbow, middle of forearm, wrist, hand circumference. Keep track of the measurements - often a change is measurable before you can eyeball it. From personal experience, I would say, be aware of how you feel - if the arm feels heavy, or like your sleeves are touching the skin even when they aren't, or a slight achiness - all of these are things that I have felt. It's great that you want to exercise. If you know how to be careful, it could actually help prevent acute lymphedema. Have fun.

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Jun 24, 2006 01:54AM AmyE wrote:


I am interested in this topic also and am experimenting slowly with how to exercise my arms and upper body. I have mild LE and am trying to be careful.

I have a good therapist who recommended yoga. I do lots of beginner yoga classes, but have to be careful because there are some poses that do put a lot of pressure and weight on the wrists and arms. So, I constantly work at my own pace and sometimes just withdraw from some exercises. Sometimes I feel as though I'm being overly cautious, but in the end it is probably the right thing to do.

My therapist also talked to me about weight training and I am starting to get into this more also. I wear a compression sleeve when exercising and lift free weights. But, in my LE arm, the weights are very low, maybe one or two pounds. She suggested this and recommended that I do more repititions with the LE arm. She suggested that once I can do 50 reps comfortably, I should move up one pound. It does get a little boring, but at least I'm getting some strength back into my upper body. So, if you do weights just remember the rule: less weight, more reps.

Good luck and stay strong!


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