Does your breast cancer survivor client experience lymphedema, a painful swelling of the arm caused by trauma to the lymphatic system? If so, she may want to include weight training in her exercise program. A study published in the August 13 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine (2009; 361 [7], 664–73) determined a link between weight lifting and reduced breast cancer–related lymphedema.

The 141 study participants were split into exercise and nonexercise groups. The active group performed a progressive weight-lifting routine twice weekly for a year. Each subject was required to wear a compression garment while exercising. At study completion, the weight-lifting group reported significant improvements in lymphedema symptoms and upper- and lower-body strength.

“This is a very promising study,” states IDEA presenter Joan Pagano, a recognized authority on exercise after breast cancer surgery. “In the past, women have been advised against lifting anything heavier than 5 pounds and performing repetitive arm movements—like scrubbing, pushing or pulling—for fear of triggering an episode. These guidelines impose severe restrictions on activities of normal life, like picking up a child, carrying a laptop or doing housework.”