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Lymphedema: Office Work Considerations for Breast Cancer Survivors

Returning to work with a post-cancer diagnosis of chronic lymphedema can be daunting enough. Preparing your workstation and environment when dealing with a chronic and life-long disease, can facilitate the planning process and improve the daily work experience.

Modify your work tasks and how you work

  • Wear a compression garment as it may help manage your swelling and offer a measure of protection for your skin.
  • Reduce repetitive tasks; vary these tasks with other duties.
  • Ensure that frequently used materials are within your reach.
  • Sit down when youíre able to if you work in a standing position (lower limb lymphedema).
  • Regular movement is important to encourage lymphatic flow. Take two minutes to stretch or walk every hour.
  • Pace yourself. Work at a speed that is comfortable for you.

Modify your work environment

  • Ensure that a first aid kit is always well-equipped and close-by to deal with any accidental wounds, complete with antiseptic to decrease infection if your skin is broken.
  • Elevate swollen limbs when possible. Consider positional supports for a heavy limb, for example, pillows or adjusting the height of your chairís armrests. For legs, consider a desk set-up where you may be able to elevate your foot/ankle.
  • Avoid extreme heat or cold; optimize air quality.

General Tips

  • Lead an active lifestyleógradual, paced exercise is good for you. Injuries and inflammation due to overuse should be avoided.
  • Be sure to practice good nutrition and maintain an optimal body weight. Obesity is a significant risk factor for lymphedema.
  • If your affected limb(s) does not fit into your work uniform, discuss alternative clothing with your manager.
  • Regular movement is important to encourage lymphatic flow. Take two minutes to stretch every hour.
  • For jobs that involve computer use and typing, consider using speech recognition software, alternatives to mice as options for swollen hands.
  • Monitor symptoms, such as changes in redness, swelling, warmth, pain, sensation are all signs to change your activity to increase circulation or consult your healthcare practitioner for treatment.

(cited from

To best direct a successful return to work, consider having a professional ergonomic workstation assessment completed. Such intervention can help to identify potential risks, determine appropriate education to mitigate symptoms, make equipment recommendations, and provide stretches to maintain circulation, and can inform of accommodations needed at the worksite. Assessments can also help in deciding whether work-related rehabilitation would be helpful, whether more time off is needed for recovery, or whether working in the future is unlikely.

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