In breast cancer survivors with lymphedema, slowly progressive weight lifting had no significant effect on limb swelling and resulted in a decreased flare-ups of lymphedema, reduced symptoms, and increased strength, say authors of a study published in the August 13 (Vol 361 Number 7) issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers performed research of twice-weekly progressive weight lifting involving 141 breast cancer survivors with stable lymphedema of the arm. The primary outcome was the change in arm and hand swelling at 1 year, as measured through displaced water volume of the affected and unaffected limbs. Secondary outcomes included the incidence of exacerbations of lymphedema, number and severity of lymphedema symptoms, and muscle strength. Participants were required to wear a well-fitted compression garment while weight lifting.

The proportion of women who had an increase of 5% or more in limb swelling was similar in the weight-lifting group (11%) and the control group (12%). As compared with the control group, the weight-lifting group had greater improvements in lymphedema symptoms and strength and a lower incidence of lymphedema exacerbations. There were no serious adverse events related to the intervention.