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Guide to Arm Care After Breast Surgery and Lymph-Node Removal

It’s important to know that not everyone develops lymphedema. The following advice can help you minimize your risk for developing it.

Updated December 29, 2019

It’s important to know that not everyone will develop lymphedema. The following advice can help you minimize your risk for its development. 

Avoid cuts, scratches and irritation

  • Use an electric razor for shaving underarms.
  • Avoid cutting cuticles when manicuring hands.
  • Wear heavy gloves and long sleeves when gardening.
  • Use rubber gloves for cleaning and washing dishes.
  • Always use a thimble to avoid pinpricks when sewing.

Avoid burns  

Be sure your hand and arm are well protected with a mitt when reaching into a hot oven. Elbow length oven mitts are recommended.

  • Be careful when using appliances such as irons, frying pans and curling irons.
  • Avoid excessive exposure to the sun.  Prevent sunburn by using protective sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher.
  • Avoid saunas and steam rooms.
  • If you smoke, hold your cigarette in the unaffected hand.

Avoid wasps, bees and other insects

Use insect repellent if you are going to be outdoors.

  • Call the doctor if you get stung by a wasp or bee and notice swelling.

Avoid injections, blood draws or vaccinations in the affected arm

  • Ask to have injections on the unaffected side (not the side of surgery).

Avoid binding or squeezing your arm

  • Don’t allow blood pressure tests on the affected arm.
  • Wear loose sleeves and avoid tight clothes.
  • Wear loose jewelry – bracelets, rings and watches.
  • Check bra straps – there should be no indentation left on your shoulder.

Avoid straining your arm

  • Don’t carry heavy objects, such as luggage or grocery bags.
  • Use your unaffected arm to carry your purse or packages.
  • Sling the shoulder strap of your purse across your body, not over the affected shoulder.

When injury does occur

As careful as you may be, injuries can still occur.  It is important to remember good first-aid skills will minimize the body’s need to send large amounts of healing fluids to your arm.

  • Keep topical wounds clean, dry and covered.
  • Never break a blister.
  • Take care of your skin—use a low pH (low acid) skin cream to keep it hydrated and resilient.
  • In the event infection does occur, call your doctor’s office for guidance, and possible need for medication to enhance the healing process.