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Reducing Lymphedema and Flare-Up Risk: Things to Avoid

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To protect your skin:

  • Don’t get manicures that cut or overstress the skin around the nails. Work with a manicurist who knows your health history and takes special care of your hands. If you’re considering a certain nail salon, do your research. Ask around to find out if there have ever been reports of unsanitary practices or if clients have experienced bacterial, fungal, or viral infections. Artificial nails can also become infection sites if not fitted and maintained properly.
  • Don’t allow the skin of your at-risk arm or hand to be pierced or pressured for any reason: for example, injections, blood draws, intravenous lines, vaccines, and blood pressure. It’s up to you to remind physicians and nurses about this at every appointment. You may wish to invest in a lymphedema medical alert bracelet you can wear on the affected arm. These are available for purchase through the National Lymphedema Network. Another option is a G-sleeve, a flexible garment worn on the forearm and clearly labeled “no blood draws, no blood pressure, no IVs.” You can put it on before doctor visits or wear it continuously during a hospital stay. If you’ve had breast cancer in both breasts along with underarm lymph node dissections, ask if you can have any blood draws or blood pressure measurements taken on another area of the body.

To protect your arm and hand from overuse, trauma, or too much pressure:

  • Avoid taking unusually hot baths or showers and immersing the arm and upper body in high-heat hot tubs or steam baths. If you wish to use a hot tub, keep your affected arm out of the water and limit your exposure to 15 minutes or less.
  • Don’t apply heating pads or hot compresses to the arm, neck, shoulder, or back on the affected side. Also, be cautious of other heat-producing treatments provided by physical, occupational, or massage therapists, such as ultrasound, whirlpool, fluidotherapy (which combines high heat and massage), or deep tissue massage. Heat and vigorous massage bring extra fluid into that area of the body.
  • Avoid carrying heavy objects or shoulder bags on your at-risk arm, especially with the arm hanging downward, at least initially. As you strengthen the arm over time, you should able to carry heavier objects again.
  • Avoid wearing tight watches, bracelets, or rings on your affected hand or arm.
  • Avoid wearing clothing that has tight sleeves or that restrains movement.
  • Avoid exercises that put great pressure on the arm — such as push-ups, the downward dog position in yoga, heavy weightlifting, or bowling — until you and your therapist determine what your arm can handle and how to build up its strength.

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