Compression Sleeve Use with Lymphedema

Last Modified: March 19, 2010


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

Do I need to wear my compression sleeve (for arm lymphedema) when flying? Is it ok to lift with the affected arm as I was told not to lift more than 10 lbs and read somewhere that lifting is o.k.


Andrea Richtel-Baranas, MSE, MPT, Lead Therapist at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

Deciding what to do about your compression garment when travelling and exercising can be confusing. The National Lymphedema Network (NLN) recommends that if you have a diagnosis of lymphedema, you should wear your sleeve during air travel. Because of the changes in air pressure that occur you are at risk for a flare up if you do not wear your sleeve. If you are wearing a sleeve, make sure you are also wearing a hand piece (either a glove or gauntlet) with it. For more information, see the NLN website.

Until recently, doctors were often recommending that women who had undergone treatment for breast cancer limit all weight lifting to less than 5 -15lbs. The reason for this recommendation was to limit the womenÕs risk of developing lymphedema or of causing flare ups in lymphedema. In 2009, Katie Schmitz, PhD, MPH published groundbreaking research looking at Weight-Lifting in Women with Breast-Cancer Related Lymphedema. In this study, Dr. Schmitz and colleagues found that in women wit h breast-cancer related lymphedema, slowly progressive weight-lifting did not cause an increase in arm swelling. It is important to note that the women in this study followed a supervised exercise program and they wore their compression sleeve with handpiece during the exercises. Before you start any exercise program, you should talk to your doctor. If you are interesting in doing the exercises that were done in the study, we recommend you work with a trainer or physical therapist that has experience with lymphedema. There are personal trainers at YMCAÕs who have specific knowledge and training in Dr. SchmitzÕs protocol. The Abramson Cancer Center has some information on where to find this type of trainer and more information about this research.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series, Exercise, Nutrition and Cancer Webchat. View the entire transcript here.


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