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Weight Training & Lymphedema

December 20, 2010, 6:13 PM by Kelli Grant

Weight Training & Lymphedema
Not only do those diagnosed with breast cancer worry about beating the disease, but after they do, they have another condition to think about:  lymphedema. 

It's painful and can be debilitating. But despite what patients were told before, a new study says weight training can help.

Nearly 20 years ago, Sharon Issenhuth was diagnosed with breast cancer. Five years later, the cancer came back.

After surgeries to remove both of her breasts and several lymph nodes, chemotherapy, radiation and chemotherapy again, she noticed something.

“I could tell my arm was swollen and I would have like maybe little shoots of pain in my arm,” Issenhuth said.

Issenhuth has Lymphedema, congestion in the lymphatic system, which causes swelling and pain on the side where she had treatment.

“Since they've been removed and or radiated, they've been damaged so in a sense you can get a congestion or a building up of fluid because of what you now have functioning may not be functioning at enough of a rate to get rid of the fluid out of that arm or that leg,” Sanford Lymphedema Therapist Kevin Horner said.

So to help, Issenhuth started exercising, slowly.  She lifts two pound weights in each arm, does water exercises, even yoga. And she makes sure she's moving every single day.  

Horner says that's important.

“When you contract your muscles, it shortens them but it also shortens the lymphatic system and in a sense it turns your muscles into like a muscle pump to help pump the fluid out,” Horner said.

Horner says as long as there's a little resistance and the muscle is contracting, weights aren't even needed.

But if weights are used, Horner says don't overdo it because that can overload the muscles, which can have just the opposite effect.

“The problem with an increase in blood flow to that area is that more lymph fluid comes to that area so if you already have an area that has a hard time getting rid of lymph fluid and then you increase more lymph fluid to that area, you can actually increase Lymphedema just by doing an exercise program,” Horner said.

Issenhuth is keeping the condition under control and says it's a reminder that she's a survivor.

“Since I was diagnosed, my children have all married, I have 10 grandchildren. I have a good life. And so putting up with some of these things, but dealing with them is good,” Issenhuth said.

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