Weight Lifting & Lymphedema


I was at a kickoff event the other night for The Licorice Project where I repeatedly heard from breast cancer survivors that they thought they shouldn’t lift weights. While that is true of women in the throes of a lymphedema flare up – it is not only safe to be lifting weights after treatments, it’s recommended! Many women are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis because of their treatments, especially if they had treatment induced menopause from their chemotherapy or surgical choices.

The old rule of thumb used to be not to lift more than five pounds. We now know that not to be true. And let’s face it- most grocery bags exceed that limit. What we do know is that a well-rounded resistance training program can actually reduce lymphatic swelling and increase bone density.

Here are some guidelines to help get you started:

  1. Ask your doctor if you should wear a compression sleeve.
  2. Don’t start lifting until you have full range of motion in your arms.
  3. Measure the circumference of your upper and lower arms before starting.
  4. Begin with very light weights and complete 10-15 repetitions.
  5. Re-measure your arms the following day- checking for swelling. If none, carry on.
  6. If there is minor swelling, wait for it to go down and start again with lighter weights.
  7. If there is major swelling – see you doctor.
  8. Gradually increase your resistance to a weight that is difficult to lift more than 15 times. 
  9. Finish each workout with stretching.
  10. For some exercise ideas, click here.

If you are hesitant to start, find a certified cancer exercise specialist or physical therapist to help get you started. The benefits far outweigh any risk you might fear.

4 Responses to Weight Lifting & Lymphedema

  • Two important points you may also consider is to alternate upper body exercises with lower body exercises to keep the lymphatic flow moving; and using a rebounder (mini trampoline) with compressions at first to increase the gravitational force of the lyphatic system. There are many articles on line regarding rebounding and lymphedema. We do strength training in our classes using resistance bands.

    • Excellent additional points Jacqui! Yoga also provides many benefits for stimulating the lymphatic system. Please feel free to post some links for everyone regarding these topics- the more the merrier 🙂

  • Jan Baird says:

    These are great guidelines. Thanks for educating the public about this. I remember the days when they told me I couldn’t lift more than five pounds. It’s so freeing that we can do more. xox

  • My friend also tells me about this treatment method and I also want to try this treatment for avoiding my lymphedema problem and the information that is given in this blog is also helpful for me so thanks for sharing this.Read More

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