Weight lifting can ease arm swelling

Just spotted this latest research - interesting as we are always being told to avoid lifting.


When I had aux clearance plus rads to the area in '04 I was told to avoid lifting anything heavy etc. I wasn’t able to keep to this and often found myself having to fetch and carry - including one of those big old televisions down a flight of stairs and out to a car just weeks after finishing chemo! I’m not a large person but I’m tall and strong. I haven’t had any problems with my arm - any pain or swelling and I would have realised my luck was running out and stopped straight away.This latest research is something that I’ve secretely believed in all along.

Hi all

There’s been a lot of discussion of this on cancer/lymphoedema forums on the Internet.

A lot of people with more knowledge of lymphoedema than I have are very worried about how this report has been portrayed by the media. It seems to be comparable to the hype we get about the next ‘wonder drug’ for bc.

There is an excellent discussion going about this on breastcancer.org (sort of an American ‘sister site’ to this one).

The thread is: community.breastcancer.org/forum/64/topic/738850

I know that not everyone always follows links through (I know I don’t), so I’m going to repost some of the very informed comments from there, so you can get a flavour of why there is concern.

"Here’s one site reporting on the study, so that you can read the reportage and the study funding information:


Kathryn Schmidt’s study was not biased, but you’re absolutely right that it will not likely be interpreted correctly. In this story you’ll note that she gives specific warnings: It is recommended that women start with a slowly progressive program, supervised by a certified fitness professional, in order to learn how to do these types of exercises properly. Women with lymphedema should also wear a well-fitting compression garment during all exercise sessions.

We might reasonably ask who’s got that sort of LE-savvy supervision available. But aside from that, the real problem here is that this is a “myth-buster” study, and the tendency with myth-busting is to go way overboard. The myth in this case involves the fact that for many years the standard medical recommendation was to NOT exercise the arm at all and to not lift anything more than five pounds. There are still doctors telling some women that routinely, even though it’s been known for years that muscle movement is the primary lymphatic pump. I’ve been both looking forward to Schmidt’s results and dreading them, because the PR is bound to be all about “get out there and lift those weights!” and not about knowledgeable supervision, slow progression, and well-fitted garments.

So I’m afraid you’re right – the next wave of serious LE misinformation will be about dashing out to the gym and going for the gusto.

When really it’s all about doing what’s right for YOU".

That’s one. Here’s another.

"Yikes, that is SCARY! It was weight training, under the guidance of a trained fitness professional, that CAUSED my LE. (I didn’t have compression garments, and she hadn’t been trained on LE and coached me to lift at capacity pretty much from the get-go.)

I don’t know that I’ll EVER be doing resistance training again with my upper body - but certainly if I do, it will be building up VERY slowly, and sticking to only light weights.

I cringe at the thought of how many more women will end up with LE because of misunderstandings of the meaning of these research results…"

"I have just started to read it–am I correct that NO BREAST CANCER SURVIVORS WHO DID NOT DEVELOP LYMPHEDEMA were included in this study?

If so, how can this have any relevance to weight training for those at risk for LE who have not yet developed it?

Am I missing something?

I find this frightening".

There’s more…

"I think the reason this report pushes so many buttons is that it is being reported as “All Breast Cancer Patients should do weight training,” which is dangerous advice, at best. If it were reported as you explained “Evidence that women with controlled LE who do careful, gradual supervised training with weights, while wearing properly fitted compression garments, may not suffer ill effects and may experience a reduction in some symptoms,” I don’t think any of us would have any objection at all. As you said - good news! But the headlines that are coming out are downright scary. I personally have already today received two emails and one voice mail from well-meaning friends pointing out the article and how I’ve been “misinformed” about the need to be careful because of my lymphedema.

It’s doctors (who tend to already be poorly informed about LE) making the same erroneous assumptions that’s got me worried."

I’m not finished yet…

" I too have gotten emails today telling me all will be well if I just go out and lift weights. Personally, I can’t even begin to tell you how incredibly frustrating that is to me. As a person with lymphedema, I am already humiliated by the lack of understanding of well-meaning friends and relatives, and this interpretation – which is certainly and without question what’s coming across in the media – is not making my life any more dignified. In fact, it’s humiliating. But that’s just me. The implications are actually much broader".

And finally

"Then there are the surgeons and oncologists and PCPs. They’ve “known” all along that we swell gals are making a mountain out of a molehill, and now they have “proof.” Just get out there and quit being a couch potato and your LE problems will disappear!

Or they’ve pooh-poohed our insistence on taking precautions with our arms and rolled their eyes when we try to tell them all our bc Sisters need LE education for risk reduction. What the articles are saying is that, just like past major medical misunderstandings, risk reduction for LE is senseless. If we get out there and lift those puppies we’ll all feel lots better and quit our fussing.

I’ve been cruising the bc boards today, and I’m truly shaken by what I’m seeing. One woman says she’s not sure how to start exercising again after bc surgery because she’s afraid of LE, and another responds that she just read today that if you lift weights you won’t get LE, so just go ahead to the gym and get your life back. That kind of post is popping up all over the web. There is no sense in my pointing out that the article refers to women with “stable LE” (whatever that may be) wearing expertly fitted compression garments and being supervised by a fleet of fully trained LE therapists and several of the few trainers in the country who have been made aware of LE, because doggone if they didn’t read it in the news that weight training will keep them from getting LE.

…None of that is what the study was supposed to be about. But all of that is what is happening already because of it. All of us already knew we could exercise, using careful attention to our arms, help from a LE therapist, compression of one kind or another. So this study has “liberated” no one. What it’s done is expose many more women to the nasty surprise of new LE because they were once again misinformed about their risk. It’s made our fight to get safe medical care far harder than it already was. And it’s set our advocacy efforts for disability coverage back at a time when we sure as heck didn’t need any more barriers".

I have to say that I’m in total agreement with comments above. I rather not have lymphoedema than discover that weightlifting, under the right cirmcumstances, need not necessarily make it worse! This research is being iresponsibly portrayed as a ‘carte blanche’ for ‘at-risk’ arms, which it isn’t. Until medical science can accurately predict who will go on to develop lymphoedema, I would humbly urge caution.

Sorry this is so long. But I do think it’s very important.

X to all


Well, I did let the cat among the pigeons, didn’t I !

Hi Bahons2

I think you hit the nail on the head and summed it up perfectly with

“until medical science can accutately predict who will go on to develop lymphoedema, I would humbly urge caution”

The research might have some merit but as usual the meida and such will pick out the bits irrespective of context. I read the report and yes it did give me some sense of relief I guess as I naturally pick things up with my ‘bad’ side, and it was scaring me like oh gosh I’m deffinately gona get it cos I was a muppet and forgot. However no way am I going off to the gym to lift wts, I dont know any trainers who have an idea about this horrible condition let alone one to advise me on how to do it safetly, most want to go for the burn!
I know that if I dont do my arm excercises regularly my arm hurts and feel hard vessels in my axilla, have no idea if this is a prelude to me ever develping lymphoedema but I do know I am at risk. I’ll be cautious and I just hope others dont get duped into overdoing it. I’ll need more than one research papper (100 good ones probably) but think unfortunately too many people will suffer, or be made to feel bad because of this report.


Hi RoadRunner,

Hope I haven’t upset you or anyone else…jumped in with both feet there, typical me, but I do think the risks of misinterpretation are terribly high with this.

My own experiences of exercise and lymphoedema are that it is, properly conducted, overwhelmingly beneficial, but I do approach anything involving any significant weight very, very warily indeed.

However, the danger of people without lymphoedema being misled into thinking that doing weights will protect them from it is very real and the consequences could be terrible.

Glenna - thanks for your support. I’ve got bilateral lymphoedema, so picking anything up could be quite a puzzle if I let it and of course I always end up using a ‘bad side’, usually with no ill effects whatsoever. So I think you’re dead right to just say ‘oops’ get on with life and not worry too much.

X to all


Hi All

Just wanted to add that it is always advisable to discuss undertaking any form of strenuous exercise with you medical team before starting. They can advise based on your own diagnosis and treatments.

Kind regards.


Hi Bahons,

I’m not remotely upset. It’s good to make sure that everyone appreciates the subtleties of the research, and not just home in on the headlines. I think any advice that can help to prevent or reduce lymphoedema has got to be good, and the more imformation that is available the better. Then we can all make informed choices, and decide for ourselves what risks we are willing to take, knowing the possible consequences.

Hi there (esp RoadRunner ;-))

The author of this research (Kathryn H Schmitz) has just given a short interview about it. It’s only about 3 mins long and you can reach it via this thread on breastcancer.org


It’s very good; she explains very clearly about the research and what conclusions should and should not be drawn from it.

She makes it plain that it was carried out on people who ALREADY had lymphoedema, that there was a slow progression in the build-up of weights used, that it seems that gradual conditioning of the arm may help to avoid flare-ups in already lymphoedematous arms and that weight training will neither prevent nor cure lymphoedema (if only!!!)

There is also advice for those who do not have lymphoedema; namely that the research is definitely not a green light for sundry heavy lifting and care should still be taken.

X to all


Nice and informative article.Thanks for the information.Finally I got I was searching for…