Moving through Lymphoedema with exercise and health education


Exercise has many benefits for lymphoedema prevention, detection and recovery. Our Cancer Rehabilitation Specialist and Occupational Therapist, Kate Perkins, recently spoke with lymphoedema physiotherapist, honorary lecturer at Macquarie University, mentor, and founder of online HELP program, Andrea Mangion, about how personalised exercise programs can help you safely and confidently move through cancer rehabilitation and lymphoedema risk minimisation.

What does breast cancer related lymphoedema (BCRL) have to do with the lymphatic system?
Lymphoedema is a swelling in the arm, hand, breast, or torso caused by issues in the lymphatic system. Australian Lymphoedema Association

Women who have had breast cancer surgery and/or radiation therapy that removes or damages the lymph nodes are at risk of developing lymphoedema.

There is evidence to suggest that women who are inactive and don’t exercise are at higher risk of getting breast cancer-related lymphoedema.

What is the lymphatic system?
The lymphatic system is a network of tissues, vessels and organs that help rid the body of toxins and waste.

Each day, our lymph nodes filter our entire blood circulation three times, helping our body function optimally. Without properly functioning lymph nodes however, our lymphatic system can’t effectively work to combat pathogens and bugs to keep our body healthy.

How can exercise support a healthy lymphatic system?
In order to thrive, our body needs a constant flow of fresh blood to reach the tissues and lymphatic capillaries.

But since the lymphatics don’t have a pump to help move the fluid through our bodies, they rely on arterial pulsation, intra-abdominal pressure and muscular contraction. And this pulsing, contracting and pressure changing occurs through movement and exercise.

Is it safe to exercise if I have cancer or lymphoedema? 
Yes. In fact, exercise has many benefits for patients undergoing cancer treatments.

Exercise allows you to maintain or improve your physical abilities, balance and muscle mass, as well as reducing cancer-related side effects and decreasing the likelihood of cancer coming back. An individualised exercise program is essential for every cancer patient.

It’s important to have a trained therapist design an exercise prescription specifically for your individual history, needs and risk of lymphoedema.

How should I start exercising?
You can start your basic exercise program at home, simply by taking big deep breaths.

Deep breaths that move your abdomen change your intra-thoracic pressures and help fluid circulate through your body so it can be filtered. And we know that fresh, clean blood helps our body stay strong and healthy. Seek out a trained health provider with experience in cancer and lymphoedema recovery to help you safely engage in an exercise program that is right for you.

Your therapist should understand your history, exercise prescription needs and risk of lymphoedema to help them develop an exercise mix that not only helps you to gain strength and reduce the risk of injury, but educates you in how to maintain a healthy lifestyle as well.

What about online exercise programs?
It’s best to avoid online blanket exercise programs that aren’t tailored to your needs and situation.

If you can’t access a clinic, our Bounce Back from Breast Cancer Foundation program includes 24 filmed exercises specifically designed for breast cancer recovery that focus on: stretching; stabilising; strengthening; resistance; core, and correct movement patterns.

You’ll learn how to do the exercises and how they relate to breast cancer rehabilitation.

Plus, you can book an online consultation with our Cancer Rehabilitation Specialist and Occupational Therapist, Kate Perkins, who will answer your questions, fine tune your exercises and modify your program so to meet your unique needs.

What other support is available for someone with lymphoedema?
The online health education on lymphoedema program helps people access the information they need to exercise safely and move confidently through lymphoedema recovery.

Get in Touch
To find out more about moving through breast cancer rehabilitation contact Cancer Rehabilitation and Lymphatic Solutions on 4312 7033 or email

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