Are There Do's and Dont's of Exercises?

Hi Everyone

I finish rads next wednesday thankfully after having 6 months chemo, op in January, 9 weeks wait for rads, and have just about finished. I had WLE and full node removal. I am concerned about lymphodema but want to keep myself as fit as I can having put on 1 stone in the last year. I would like to join a gym but wonder what equipment I can use and what is a no no. I realise weights to the op side are out of the question but what about the rowing machines as I suppose they use a bit of arm strength too. Would very light weights strengthen both arms or would I be taking a risk?? Should I stick to walk/jog machines and bikes? Some of you go swimming but I would have thought that takes a lot out of your arms?? Any ideas?


Hi Chris

I followed a similar treatment plan to you from DX in May 07 finishing in Jan 08 and now on tamoxifen. I had my first check up in April 08 and with everything being Ok with that I joined the gym.

I was assigned a trainer who I talked to about everything that had happened and my concerns re lymphodema and he was brilliant. He went on the internet and researched what I should and shouldn’t do and I think he enjoyed the challenge as much as me. I now have a fitness programme that he changes every 8 weeks or so to keep it fresh but I don’t use the rowing machine or any of the upper body machines. Instead he gives me some pilates based exercises for my upper body that are very good and have included using light weights which I haven’t had a problem with. I basically use the bike and treadmill and a couple of the leg machines and it works really well for me. I also swim which is good for my upper body strength. The only think I avoid really is the sauna and steam room.

I also really love doing body combat as this exercises my arms and shoulders in a way that I can control and it always puts me in a great mood as I feel I have worked really hard without risking any damage.

I am now training to run Race for Life in May and Liam is helping me achieve this.

Good luck

Hi Chris,

I have mild lymphoedema in my right hand. I have been told by my lymphoedema nurse that the main thing is not to strain your arm. Whatever you do, build it up slowly over time. This way, you can do increasing amounts without any strain.

Hi Chris

As you know, I already have lymphoedema in both arms.

AJXX and Roadrunner have given you really good advice, I reckon.

I go to a bc exercise/gym class once a week and the general aim is increase our overall fitness with an emphasis on keeping our shoulders, etc supple.

Even with the lymphoedema (and a growly tennis elbow), I’ve found that I can now use (but couldn’t when I first started, as had only finished chemo three weeks earlier - had to build up to the 10 mins slowly) the rowing machine for 10 mins at a gentle pace with no load. Exercise bike, no problems, of course. Cross trainer, v gently, 10 mins again. As far as weights go, I am OK with 250 grams. Anything heavier can be tricky and depends on which exercise is being attempted. If I’m not happy I just stop. The instructress is very mindful of our condition (mostly because I printed a load of stuff off the internet for her!), which is either lymphoedema sufferer (I’m now not the only one in the class, as another lady has recently developed it) or ‘at-risk’ and makes sure she alternates between legs and shoulders/arms. Apart from the rowing m/c, bike and cross-trainer, we don’t do any one activity for more than 2 mins and have lots of little breaks for relaxing the muscles. It’s good fun.

As far as swimming goes, well, it’s terrific exercise and very good for the lymphatics as it combines exercise with the cooling and compressive properties of the water. The key thing, as has been mentioned, is not to overdo it at first. Start slowly, and build up very gradually.

If anything you do makes your arm ache, stop. Also, it’s a good idea to take note of how your arm feels the day after you have had some exercise, as sometimes it can take this long for it to start aching or feel a bit strange.

I do a lot of walking, too. (But I think you do too anyway, as you have Lottie the Lurcher?).

All the best for now



I was recommended a trampoline for lymphoedema-I broke my leg on first hop!

thankyou everyone for your replies. I will join a gym, I have one about 7 miles away and only £16 per month which I can afford by not buying chocolate!!! I will take on board what has been said, little at a time and slow build up. Great, I’m really looking foreward to it.
by the way AJ what is body combat? sounds like hard work!! I’m 53 and it may be a little bit too fast??, but hey, I’m willing to have a go at anything… Good luck with Race for Life, thats brill !

Oh no Horace, that is really awful, perhaps a stepper on the ground next time!!!

Hi Bahons, its good to hear from you,


Hi Dipstick
Its good to hear you are on the mend, and joining the gym will be so good for your morale and fitness.

My only exercise is walking, and now attending to a veg patch (can you call that exercise?) and of course I still do my post mx exercises.

Glad to hear that you are also keeping fit Bahons, I really wish there was something like that in our neck of the woods, but I haven’t heard of anything.

Take care all,

P xx

hi Chris

Body combat is based on boxing moves without actually hitting anything or anybody!! It is a great workout and when I first did it after I was diagnosed I imagined I was hitting the hell out of the cancer and it was very therapeutic.

I am 43 and the ladies in the class I go to are aged up to mid 60’s, everyone just works at there own pace and level and its great fun.

Good luck with whatever you try and have fun.



Oh no I was so looking forward to getting back to the gym and pool and love my sauna and steam room - didn’t know they were no go areas can you tell me why please?

Posts very helpful,thanks.

Anne x

Hi Anne

I know its a p-off I would love to use them both. I do very occasionally sit on the lower bench in the sauna for a few minutes but the steam room is very hot. It is to do with infection risk from having full node clearance and because I had a very bad cellulitis episode I am scared to risk it but it is a personal decision. I went to Turkey last year not long after the infection and as well as being told not to expose my arm to direct sunlight I was advised not to have a Turkish bath so I didn’t but I do use the spa pool at the gym and haven’t had a problem with that. If you follow all the rules about lymphodema and infection risk you wouldn’t even pick up a bag or have a hot bath so it’s a case of trying things in small doses and assessing your personal risk but I will say the cellulitis was awful and knocked me back for a few weeks.
Don’t know if I have helped or hindered but enjoy.

Hi there again, all

Peacock, the class is really good, very sociable with all us bc crocks together (comparing scars and portacaths, etc!) I think it’s a bit of a pilot project, so it may get expanded over time. The take-up hasn’t been huge, which is a shame, altho’ bureaucracy has played a part in this. You must live within a certain catchment AREA and have been treated at the local hospital to qualify, so a number of ladies who have wanted to come haven’t been able to!

Anne, the medical explanation of why we should avoid saunas, spa pools and steam rooms is this:

‘They can encourage large increases in blood flow to the surface of a limb - where the lymphoedema is (or is at risk of developing). This means an increase in the amount of fluid accumulating in the tissues with a corresponding increase in the load on the lymphatic system, which may precipitate or worsen lymphoedema’.

It’s a bummer, aint’t it? I suppose you could always sit in spa pool with your arm somehow resting out of the water. As AJXX says, there’s an element of ‘suck it and see’ as well. No-one knows your arm like you do and you have to be guided by how it feels, too.

BTW, I’ve heard that infra-red saunas are better for people with, or at risk of getting, lymphoedema, as the temperature can be kept a good deal lower. Has anyone any experience of these?



Just wanted to say, my physio told me that jogging is a def no-no for your pelvic floor muscles! Just something else to think about :slight_smile:

Hi Pineapple

thats a new one on me!!! I did loads of runs in my 40’s, from 10k, Great British North Run 13miles several times and the Dublin marathon. So far, so good, pelvic floor still intact!!! Joints creak a bit. Not taking any chances though so will start my pelvic floor exercises just in case. Heres to keeping fit…

Chris x

Hi AJ and Bahones thanks for your response. I must admit that I was very upset after receiving a leaflet about lymphodema from the physio prior to my op which virtually said you must never expose, stretch, carry, push or do anything with your arm ever ever again!

Whilst I want to do everything I can to lessen the chance of getting lyphodema I do want to carry on with my life as an active person. I suppose it’s about getting the balance right and I don’t fully understand all the ins and outs of it yet.

Anne xx

Hi there

It is difficult, isn’t it, bydand? On the on hand you don’t want to develop lymphpoedema, but on the other you want to be too frightened to get on with living.

It’s good that your physio gave you a leaflet, but she seems to have scared you as well! (Not so good).

There is an interesting discussion, with useful suggestions, currently going on on the American ‘sister’ site to this one at:

I think it is hard to find a balance, especially at first…



Hi Anne
Regarding the lymphodema thing. I had full node clearance last year and I’m a climber. That means I frequently strain my arms to the max and I frequently support my whole weight off my affected arm. When I was in hospital the physios tut tutted at my ‘hobby’ and suggested I give it up. I’m a stubborn so and so and also I felt that BC has robbed enough of my previous carefree lifestyle without making me give up this as well. I visited a lymphodema clinic to get more information to try and understand the risks a bit more and they were very understanding and supported me in my life goes on approach. They fitted me with a sleeve to wear whilst I’m climbing and one year on I’ve had no problems. I appreciate there is a risk in what I do and I’m parital to sneaking in the steam room occaisionally too but through this experience I learnt that some physios are more understanding than others and it’s easy for them to dismiss soemthing as not possible or shouldn’t be done but they don’t live with our situation every day. I definitely felt I got more information and a more understanding approach by visiting a specialist lymphodema clinic.
Hope this helps & Good luck
Oh and as for running and pelvic floor. I’m training for the marathon next year and since having 3 kids running seems to be improving my pelvic floor not harming it! - although that would be typical for me to do something that doesn’t happen to other people as I’ve had a total nightmare with ‘rare’ side effects all throughout this experience but that’s a different story…

Hi eal69eal thanks for your post it is a great help. Like you I would feel much worse not carrying on with my life and whilst taking precautions I intend to do just that. I can’t help feeling that keeping your arm strong and fit makes it healthier - like your body! Good to know you make sneaky visit to steam room too :-}

And Bahones thanks for the pm and further info. and link big help.

I’m sure the physio meant well but I do think the leaflet they gave me needs revised as so negative had me in floods of tears before op. and physio was so negative. Only good news she told me was that I should never ever hoover again - I wish!!

All the best Anne x


Glad your found the pm useful!

It’s a fat lot of good being told not to hoover or iron again. Are we supplied with home helps? Are we biff.

I’ve got in in both arms and I still use the hoover (I’ve got a lightweight cylinder one). I swap arms at regular intervals for many activities, hoovering, ironing, mousing and never try to do a whole house/pile/session in one go. I’ll break off for a coffee and a look at the paper or just do something different for a while.

I think you’re right about a strong arm being a help. I’m sure I read somewhere recently that good muscle tone helps lymph flow (just can’t remember where!).

It’s a question, I would say, of building up gradually, not overdoing it and maybe seeing if you can get fitted for a prophylactic sleeve as eal69eal has done if you envisage undertaking her sort of strenous activity. (There is a good post on the the lymphoedema forum about this; I’ll try to bump it now…)



PS The thread is called ‘4 nodes removed whats the Lymphoedema risk?’. It’s quite a long post, but you can find the info’ about how to get a prophylactic sleeve (if your lymphoedema clinic won’t oblige) on Page 2.

Very informative thread.

I have been doing tai chi and a bit of gentle swimming. The tai chi is great and I feel it is increasing arm strength