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Integr Cancer Ther. 2013 Sep;12(5):423-32. doi: 10.1177/1534735413477194. Epub 2013 Feb 25.

Neither heavy nor light load resistance exercise acutely exacerbates lymphedema in breast cancer survivor.

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Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Western Australia, Australia.


Resistance exercise has great potential to aid in the management of breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL), but little is known regarding the acute response of performing resistance exercises with the affected limb.


To examine the acute impact of upper body resistance exercise on the amount of swelling and severity of symptoms in women with BCRL and to compare these effects between resistance exercise involving high and low loads (heavier vs lighter weights).


Seventeen women aged 61 ± 9 years with mild to severe BCRL participated in this study. Participants completed a high load (6-8 repetition maximum) and low load (15-20 repetition maximum) exercise session consisting of 2 sets of 5 upper body resistance exercises in a randomized order separated by a 10- to 12-day wash-out period. The extent of swelling was assessed using bioimpedance spectroscopy, dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, and arm circumference measurements. The severity symptoms were assessed using the visual analogue scale (pain, heaviness, and tightness) and a modified Brief Pain Inventory. Measurements were taken pre-exercise, immediately post-exercise, 24 hours post-exercise, and 72 hours post-exercise.


No changes in the extent of swelling or the severity of symptoms were observed between pre-exercise and immediately post-exercise, 24 hours post-exercise, or 72 hours post-exercise. No differences in the response to the high or low load exercise were observed.


Upper body resistance exercise does not acutely increase swelling or feelings of discomfort/pain, heaviness tightness in the affected limb of BCRL patients when performed at either high or low loads.


breast cancer; dose response; lymphedema; resistance exercise; weight lifting

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