Swimming is one of the most beneficial forms of exercise post breast cancer. It is mobilising, strengthening and can help relieve stress. Lymphoedema therapist, Sue Serebro, explains why you should make a splash this spring.
After breast surgery and radiation therapy, the affected areas heal by forming scar tissue. This tissue loses its normal elasticity and its circulation becomes less efficient, which leads to a certain amount of stiffness and weakness of the shoulder girdle. If left unattended, it may result in pain and loss of range of movement of the shoulder joint. And, many patients who have had chemotherapy lose fitness and aspire to regain it; this is why swimming is recommended post breast cancer as there are plentiful advantages of exercising in water.
Firstly, it has been proven that any form of cardiovascular exercise, like swimming, is great for stress management, and most importantly, beneficial for any chronic condition. Swimming is also recommended for patients who are overweight.
Swimming promotes relaxation and uses isokinetic motion which reduces inflammatory responses. The natural gradient compression with the hydrostatic pressure, of water, of 22,4mm Hg for every 30cm of immersion, mimics the graduated compression required to facilitate lymph drainage. Thus, patients who have some form of compression therapy, e.g. multilayer bandaging or a compression sleeve, can happily exercise and are encouraged to do so, in water.
Hydrotherapy (water therapy) is extremely beneficial for patients who have truncal oedema. When exercising in water, you can either use the water for passive exercise or for resistance. You can utilise the water for as much resistance as you require as well as add weights around your wrists and/or ankles. Should you experience any pain, the buoyancy of the water acts as an analgesic, reducing discomfort.
When commencing aquatic exercise, limit it to 30 minutes initially. If you are on Herceptin, be aware of not increasing your cardiac rate above 120. The water temperature should not be above 34°C. If, when getting out of the water, your skin is red, the temperature is too high. This can aggravate lymphoedema of the affected areas. Make sure that you have no open wounds when entering a pool or the sea as this may lead to infection or affect the healing of the wound. Be sure to dry yourself off well, once out of water, and moisturise your skin with a non-fragranced cream, that preferably has a pH of 5,5.
A factor that comes into play for mastectomy patients is selecting a swimming costume that they would feel confident in, and most importantly, for the costume to be fitted with the correct prosthesis that enables them to feel whole again.
This emotional hurdle is more easily dealt with today due to the numerous prosthetics that are available as well as a wide range of swimwear designed to fit all shapes and sizes.
So, finding a good bathing costume doesn’t have to be an agonising endeavour. And once you’ve found that swimsuit that makes you feel like a million bucks, it is essential to take care of it.
Below are simply ways to ensure your costume is well maintained:
• Rinse it immediately after use, and then wash it once your day in the water is over.
• Ensure that all the sea salt, suntan cream or swimming pool chemicals have been completely removed.
• Do not wash your garment with fabric softener or any detergent.
• Make sure that the soap has been properly rinsed off the fabric.
• Remove the excess water from the garment by rolling it in a towel and patting it dry.
• Dry it naturally away from any direct heat.
• Merely rinse the prosthesis under running water, using a mild soap.
Written by Sue Serebro,