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Exercise is especially helpful for individuals who develop lymphedema, fluid buildup and swelling that develops in a limb or other part of the body when the lymphatic system is disrupted by surgery, trauma, or radiation. A common byproduct of breast surgery, lymphedema may develop in the arm or hand on the treated side of the body. The swelling and impaired lymph function can cause pain, infection, and loss of mobility. Overuse or injury can cause lymphedema to flare up, and swelling may worsen over time without consistent management.
Patients with lymphedema have traditionally been advised to avoid heavy exertion and using the lymphatic arm to lift anything weighing more than 5 pounds. However, solid research has now reversed that recommendation. A study for women with lymphedema showed that patients who participated in a specially-designed weightlifting program increased their strength and had fewer swelling flare-ups compared to the control patients. Experts now recommend carefully controlled weightlifting to effectively use muscle and build strength so the arm or affected limb becomes less prone to injury and reduces lymphatic occurrences.