Monday, February 13, 2017

Chapter 17 - Being Well Physically



Being Well Physically


In many ways living with lymphedema is no different than simply living.  You want to be well and that includes exercise, but the lymphedema factor is present.  Again, I urge everyone to get their physiotherapists advice.  A healthy body needs regular exercise but as a lymphedema patient, it is important that common sense prevail.  The choices have to be considered. 

I have been given specific exercises to maintain a range of motion that I do faithfully.   If I miss more than one day, I feel the difference.  I do these stretches during my walks or as a separate task.

When I wanted to go back to my shooting sport of Cowboy Action I had to rely on common sense.  The professional knowledge base that applied to a right-handed lymphedema patient, post right breast surgery, with right arm pain and a potential underlying injury that wanted to go back to a shooting sport was limited if not non-existent. No one knew. 

Common sense told me that the impact of the shotgun on my right shoulder could be potentially damaging.  My own thoughts were that I should switch to left-handed shooting.  I started practicing, always assessing my arm’s health.  Shooting with my non-dominant side eventually became natural, but at the beginning I went step by step very thoughtfully. 

My next concern, to participate in this sport, was about stamina.  Again common sense told me that if I was unharmed by a practice session of a certain length, then I could compete, because competition comes with periods of rest.  I assessed this and so did my physiotherapist.  It was a proud day when I returned to competing.   

I was always ready to sit things out, especially when my arm was sore.  But I would compete and I would be fine.  In fact, my arm usually felt better after the competition.   This fact took a while to register.  Then a friend gave me a news article about pain management around lymphedema that involved weight lifting.  Now I understood why my arm felt better after shooting.  It wasn’t long before I was lifting weights and that helped me turn the corner on pain management.      

I did other things to help myself physically.  I learned to do lymphatic self-massage (LSM) and that is now part of my daily routine.  It’s not difficult but it certainly pays to have a skilled teacher.   LSM has helped me manage my lymphedema. 

A quick tip that you might want to try is stretching the scar from your surgery.  I use the thumb and finger and firmly place them close together on the top of the scar, then separate my digits while maintaining downward pressure.  As I understand it, this action unclogs things at the site, although my version of what happens takes creative license.  

Another suggestion given to me by my physiotherapists was the use of Kinesio taping.  It emphasizes the skin’s movement and works the tissues underneath in a gentle and effective way which enhances the lymphatic fluid movement.  My first problem was finding a good source for this product.  My local drugstore only stocked a brand that was grossly inferior to my needs.  I was to apply the tape and leave it there for five days, taking two days off.  The drugstore product barely stuck for five minutes.  Obviously tapes are not created equal. 

Eventually I got tape that I loved.  However, I developed a skin irritation from the tape and I had to quit using the tape, because meticulous skin care is a # 1 priority.  Discuss taping with your physiotherapists to see if it will of benefit to you.  The beauty of taping is that it magnifies the benefits of everyday activities.  As you move the tape stimulates lymphatic fluid movement. 

 So there are a lot of physical choices for the lymphedema patient, but there are real concerns as well.  Common sense, and trust in your own intuition combined with advice from your physiotherapists can put you on the road to a good physical life. 

An example of intuitive sense lies in the story of the dragon boating.  The information about appropriate exercise for lymphedema patients, at the time, was conservative.  These guidelines were challenged by dragon boating.  Careful planning and constant assessment of the patient’s needs and abilities was a cornerstone to the dragon boat experiment and now the role of habitual exercise is better understood. 

While it still is wise to avoid strenuous activity in the early recovery time period following surgery and radiation therapy, strenuous, repetitive upper body exercise may not be the major lymphedema risk factor it was once thought to be.  Further research promises to guide the lymphedema patient and those at risk. 


“Common sense and personal assessment can help you to get active and to live healthy.”

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