Exercise for recovering breast cancer patients can often produce painful lymphedema symptoms. As a consequence many patients avoid exercise; this leads to weakness, frailty, more pain, swelling, lower energy levels, weaker bones, increased likelihood of injury, and a shorter lifespan. Fortunately with a protocol of slow, progressive weight lifting one can increase strength and reduce painful lymphedema symptoms.
From a previous blog post, Exercise for Women Living with Lymphedema:
“In the last decade, Linda Miller, the director of the Breast Cancer Physical Therapy Center in Philadelphia, has found that patients who strengthen their arms controlled their lymphedema symptoms better than those who didn't lift weights. "For years, I was spitting in the wind," said Ms. Miller, a physical therapist. "This study is going to rock the lymphedema world."
Evidence from a more recent study, Study: Weight Lifting Helps Breast Cancer Survivors Stay Healthy:
“The physical function study involved 295 survivors of breast cancer that had not spread (metastasized). Half the women took part in slowly progressive weight lifting twice a week. After 1 year, half as many women in the weight lifting group lost physical function as did women in the control group… More specifically, 12 out of 148 women in the weight lifting group, or 8.1%, lost physical function, compared with 24 out of 147 women in the control group, or 16.3%.
According to the study’s authors, the findings are significant because each 10-point decrease in physical function among breast cancer survivors increases their risk of premature death by an estimated 6%.”
At our Austin Strength Training facility we have had success working with recovering cancer patients. The recovery systems of these patients have already been strained. They cannot stand long bouts of exercise. Our personal training sessions are short and designed to efficiently stimulate a change; we then give them plenty of time to recover.
The equipment we use is MedX medical rehab equipment which is more easily tolerated by the joints. We can restrict the range of motion to a pain-free range of motion, and we use controlled movements, i.e. slower, to minimize forces that could aggravate pre-existing conditions.
Lance Armstrong once said. “Before I just lived now I live strong”. The catch 22 is doing this without aggravating pre-existing conditions. As the studies listed above have demostrated, it can be done.