Preventing Lymphedema

author : AMSSM
comments : 0

Triathlete returning to training after breast cancer surgery seeks tips

Member Question:


"I've completed surgery, started radiation therapy, and was outfitted for my compression sleeve today. According to the lymphedema specialist, prevention is much less bothersome than managing the chronic condition. This means wearing the sleeve during all exercise where there's repetitive arm motion.
Are any sleeve brands better than others for sports?
Do you have any experience with swimming with the sleeves? I was swimming around 2,000 yards."


Answer from Vijay Jotwani, MD
Member, AMSSM

Thanks for your question.  I am pleased to hear you are making progress in treating your breast cancer and also pleased to hear you are getting back to swimming.  

You are correct that prevention is the best treatment for lymphedema.  Ongoing research to optimize surgery for lymph node resection should help decrease the overall frequency of lymphedema after breast cancer.  Manual massage is a recommended treatment and prevention strategy and should be part of your overall plan in managing lymphedema.  Compression garments are also a common intervention that can help although I am not aware of any medical studies that have compared brands of compression sleeves.  

While exercise was previously considered unsafe with lymphedema, multiple studies are showing the benefits of exercise in managing lymphedema.  This includes both aerobic activities as well as resistance exercise.  The most important advice I can offer is for you to very gradually increase the intensity and duration of your exercise.  While you may have normally swam 2,000 yards, I would suggest a very gradual increase in activity beginning with as little as 200 yards in your first swim.  You can gradually increase your distance by 2 laps each time you swim until you gradually and safely reach 2,000 yards for a swim.  This will allow you to gauge the severity of lymphedema and adjust your treatment (the compression sleeve and massage) accordingly.  It also would be prudent to cross train and consider jogging, cycling, and other gym workouts in addition to swimming for exercise, which I'm sure you are already doing! 

Best of luck!

Sincerely,

Vijay Jotwani, MD
Primary Care Sports Medicine
Houston Methodist Department of Orthopedics  

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date: March 31, 2016

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The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) was formed in 1991 to fill a void that has existed in sports medicine from its earliest beginnings. The founders most recognized and expert sports medicine specialists realized that while there are several physician organizations which support sports medicine, there has not been a forum specific for primary care non-surgical sports medicine physicians.

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The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) was formed in 1991 to fill a void that has existed in sports medicine from its earliest beginnings. The founders most recognized and expert sports medicine specialists realized that while there are several physician organizations which support sports medicine, there has not been a forum specific for primary care non-surgical sports medicine physicians.

FIND A SPORTS MEDICINE DOCTOR

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