Lymphedema is the abnormal buildup of fluid in the body, as a result of damage to the lymphatic system. It is unfortunately a common side effect of cancer treatment in breast cancer patients due to nodal damage through the axilla.
The lymphatic system is a mass of vessels and lymph nodes found around the body, such as through the armpit, groin and neck. It is responsible for carrying lymph around the body to fight signs of infection. Lymph is a fluid containing white blood cells, responsible for fighting off disease and infection.
When blockages appear through the lymphatic system, swelling develops as the lymph starts to build up with nowhere to drain. This is commonly found in the arms or legs.
This can cause many problems such as difficulty wearing jewellery, watches, or fitting into clothes. More seriously, it can create a heavy feeling through the affected body part, and restrict range of motion. Lymphedema can also cause recurring skin infections and thickening of the skin.
Exercise is found to be beneficial in managing the severity of lymphedema. It is thought that muscles underlying the lymphatic system act as a pump during muscular contractions, helping the lymph (swelling) away from the limbs when the lymphatic vessels are compromised.
Exercise and movement can help to increase range of motion through the affected body part and encourage a normal body weight, positively impacting swelling.
For those who experience lymphedema it is important to seek advice from an exercise professional to develop an appropriate exercise program specifically tailored towards current abilities, restrictions and other health considerations.