The Importance Of Exercise After Upper Extremity Lymphedema
Upper extremity lymphedema is a common byproduct of breast cancer, since lymph nodes in the area are frequently removed or affected by radiation therapy. Although the road to recovery may be long and full of obstacles, you can navigate the challenges by continuing therapeutic exercise after surgical treatment.
At their Houston practice, Dr. Fusi and Dr. Craig treat patients with restorative surgery that enhances quality of life through:
- Vascularized Lymph Node Transfer: Moving healthy lymph nodes to the upper extremities to enable the drainage of lymph fluid.
- Lymphovenous Bypass: Connecting different lymphatic vessels to create a new pathway for fluid to drain.
While these treatments are still in their nascent stages, Dr. Fusi and Dr. Craig have performed numerous surgeries to improve patient comfort and quality of life. The continued practice of exercise, monitored by a physical therapist, is a helpful adjunct to staying healthy and active after surgery to ensure success.
Starting Slow and With Expert Advice
Similar to a patient who has had a heart attack, Houston patients who have upper extremity lymphedema should work on strengthening their bodies to prevent future problems from emerging. Many experts believe that exercise is the key to improving the function of your arms after surgery.
At the early stages of exercise, it is critical to consult your physical therapist to understand which exercises are best for strengthening muscles. Houston patients with upper extremity lymphedema have been known to benefit from:
- Increased flexibility. Gentle yoga can help you stretch comfortably at a slow pace that focuses on postures intended for all levels.
- Strength training. With light weights or resistance machines that concentrate on the upper body.
- Aerobic exercise. Moving the upper body is an important aspect of any routine you begin. Machines such as hand bikes or using the handles on an elliptical machine work well.
All of these exercises will need to be modified based on your comfort level. Some women find it difficult to perform certain activities because their arms grow painful soon after beginning. Remember that you should stop at the first sign of pain, and learn to recognize the difference between activating muscles and straining your arms.
Tips for Restarting Your Exercise Routine
Anyone who is consistently active knows how hard it is when you take a break from your routine. Compound that with recovering from surgery and you have an even greater challenge understanding the new goals to set for your work out. Prior to surgery, you might have run a marathon or spent hours at the gym but now your health comes first. To gradually get back into exercising remember to:
- Consult a physical therapist or doctor before beginning any new exercise. Include as many details as possible for assistance evaluating the safety of your new routine.
- Work out your lower body. You definitely want to strengthen your arms, but many patients don’t realize that your abs and legs often involve engaging your arms as well.
- Monitor your lymphatic arm after you work out. Any changes in the appearance (size, texture) or feel (soreness or stiffness) indicates you need a break and may need to visit your doctor for additional advice.
Finding a healthy and balanced exercise routine after battling upper extremity lymphedema may be a bit challenging at first, but once you start to regain strength you’ll reap the long-term benefits.
For more information about upper extremity lymphedema treatment, contact our Houston office at (713) 346-9909.