So, I now faced the reality that my breast cancer journey included a lymphedema diagnosis. As I shared in previous posts, manual lymph drainage has been a very helpful tool in managing it. I strongly recommend being proactive, if you are at risk, in finding a registered massage therapist who is certified in MLD. He or she can be an ongoing support. Even though I am very careful about caring for my arm, I will on occasion have a flare-up and have to book an appointment. I also make sure to get my arm measured on a regular basis as swelling can be very subtle and of course, I need to order up my new compression sleeves for which, thankfully, I am covered on extended health for 4 new ones every 6 months. If nothing else, my RMT is a great sounding board and often puts my anxiety at ease. She also goes to seminars and conferences to keep abreast (no pun intended) of the latest lymphedema news.
Exercise is necessary to manage lymphedema. Muscle contraction as you exercise moves the lymph fluid towards the heart & through the body. It maintains the gliding action of the surfaces between our connective tissues and the muscles. As well, exercise helps with maintaining ideal body weight which, as I mentioned before, being overweight is a risk factor for lymphedema. Of course, you’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard about all of the other benefits of exercise; how it builds strength, is good for your heart and reducing cancer risk, promotes a positive self-image, makes you feel good, contributes to better sleep and the list goes on. Specifically, exercise is always important and studies indicate there is no reason to stop once you have a lymphedema diagnosis.
The guidance here is to introduce exercise slowly and gradually. Another phrase we hear time and again because it is crucial for reducing the risk for injury and acquiring lymphedema or managing it is to listen to your body! Stop if it hurts. You can change the exercise, reduce repetitions and resistance if you are doing weight training, (wear your compression sleeve if you have lymphedema) and don’t give up! Studies have shown that exercise 3 times per week on a regular basis is ideal to allow time for tissues to recover. If you use weights, be aware that moving to heavier weights and training at irregular intervals can cause injury to which can put you at risk for developing lymphedema or aggravating your and existing condition. Regular schedule and gradual progression is key.
These are the 6 Essential Exercises as prescribed to me by my Registered Massage Therapist:
Shoulder blade movement on the rib cage – Walking fingers up and down the wall, pushing yourself towards and away from from the wall, “snow angels” on the floor
Modified Plank – for core (stabilizing the neck/scaplula
Seated or standing Row with scalpula squeeze at the end of the range
Triceps press (arms and shoulder width apart)
Pectoral stretch (different heights being careful not to strain the neck
From “Lymphedema” – Carol Armstrong BA RMT – Feb 2013
There are several other things that can be done and I now, (finally,) come to my main point after several posts. Thanks for hanging in there!
So. Why do I-Yengar? Or rather, why do I have a regular yoga practise and more specifically, yoga in the Iyengar tradition? While weight training is excellent for lymphedema, stretching and breathing is equally essential!
In my next post I will talk about my discovery of Iyengar Yoga and how it has positively changed my life post breast cancer!
There are many excellent articles about Exercise and Lymphedema. I am attaching a link to the Breastcancer.org site which is filled with amazing information on this and other topics. Here is a good one to get you started: