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    No.110: 10 Lymphedema Exercises to Boost Recovery

    10 Lymphedema Exercises to Boost Recovery & the Spirit

    Diagnosed with Lymphedema can be scary and overwhelming and we are here to help you navigate your post-lymph node removal as a part of your breast cancer treatment and risk for lymphedema. Finding and working with a certified lymphedema specialist is of the utmost importance for breast cancer survivors and patients. Finding the right physical therapist that works with the lymph vessels and lymphatic system is just as important as the performing the lymphedema exercises program at home. 

    If you are experiencing any build-up of lymph fluid working with a lymphedema therapist is just as important as wearing your compression sleeve and arm exercises. It isn’t always just about when towear your compression sleeve or stocking, but important exercises to help address any muscle contractions, pain, or discomfort. 

    Any breast cancer patient that has lymph node removal is at risk of developing lymphedema, so it is important to meet with your doctors to understand your risks and best practices to ensure safe exercise and treatment.  

    Meet Dr. Elise K. Cantu, PT, is a Board Certified Oncologic Clinical Specialist & a LANA-Certified Lymphedema Therapist.  She is the owner ofFort Worth Cancer Care, PLLC, which specializesin helping people reclaim their health & wellness after a cancer diagnosis.

    Through her podcast,TheOncoPT Podcast, she educates physical therapists & other rehab professionals how to confidently & competently treat patients who have a cancer diagnosis. 

    Fort Worth Cancer Care, PLLC: www.fortworthcancercare.com

    TheOncoPT: www.TheOncoPT.com; @TheOncoPT

    Dr. Elise K. Cantu, PT

    10 Lymphedema Exercises to Boost Recovery & the Spirit

    1. Diaphragmatic breathing
      1. With one hand on your chest & one hand on your stomach, take deep relaxing breaths.  Your stomach should expand when you breathe in.  Your stomach should relax when you breathe out.  Perform 10 times.  
    2. Shoulder rolls
      1. With arms relaxed at your side, roll your shoulders backwards.  Perform 10 times.
    3. Apple picking
      1. Imagine you are picking apples at an orchard.  Reach up to grab an apple from an apple tree.  Bring the apple back down & place it in the basket at your side.  Perform 10 times.
    4. Light bulb twists
      1. Pretend you need to change an overhead light bulb.  Unscrew the light bulb, gently twisting your whole arm.  Perform 10 times.
    5. Fists
      1. Holding your hands at least above ear height, open & close your hand to make a fist.  Perform 10 times.
    6. Marching
      1. Sitting or lying down: lift one leg up at a time & gently lower it back to the ground as if you are marching.  Perform 10 times.
    7. Knee kicks
      1. Sitting or lying down: straighten your knee, kicking your foot forward.  Gently bring your leg back to the starting position.  Perform 10 times.
    8. Ankle pumps
      1. Sitting or lying flat on the floor: point your foot down like you are pressing on a gas pedal (or like a ballet dancer).  Then flex your foot so that your toes come up towards your face.  Perform 10 times.
    9. Toe wiggles
      1. Sitting or lying down: scrunch your toes up like you’re trying to pick something up with them.  Relax.  Perform 10 times.
    10. Walking
      1. Walking is a great way to get your lymphatic system pumping.  Start by taking short laps around your room or home, a couple minutes at a time.  

    Walking & deep breathing are good for both upper & lower extremity lymphedema.  Items 2-5 are useful for upper extremity lymphedema. Items 6-9 are great for lower extremity lymphedema.

    Certified Lymphedema Therapist Tips For Recovery At Home

    Everybody recovers a little differently.  Some bodies recover more slowly, & some recover more quickly.  I encourage all patients to have a helper during recovery: a family member, a friend, even someone from church can be a great person to help during your recovery phase.

    Sometimes my patients hear the word “lymphedema” & run out to buy 20 garments from Amazon (true story).  However, the compression garments found on Amazon are not truly made for lymphedema & can harm more than help.  Additionally, while these garments can be less expensive, most patients will have to buy many garments since they wear out so quickly.

    When Do I Know If I Need A Certified Lymphedema Therapist

    If you have lymphedema or youthink you may have lymphedema, you should see a certified lymphedema therapist.  A certified lymphedema therapist (CLT) has 135 HOURS of lymphedema education, all focused on helping people reduce & manage their symptoms now & in the long run.  A certified lymphedema therapist will help you identify what’s going on, address the impairments, & get you back to doing the things you love.

    Advice On How To Face Lymphedema

    One of my favorite things to tell patients is: You may have lymphedema, but lymphedema does NOT have you. 

    If you or any other person has a medical concern, you shouldconsult with your health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that you have read on this blog, website or in any linked materials.

    Dana Donofree

    Dana Donofree

    Founder and CEO of AnaOno. After a diagnosis of breast cancer in her late 20’s, Dana took her own lived experience and fashion design background and (re)designed intimates for those that have undergone breast surgery. Dana’s story has been published around the world in outlets like New York Times, BBC, Huffington Post, The Today Show, and more.