June 2, 2003
Lymphedema And Using The Computer
Francine Manuel, RPT, Alexandra Andrews, Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD and Robert A. Wascher, MD, FACS
The problem of persistent swelling (lymphedema) of one or both arms after trauma of any kind can affect computer usage, especially for people who have to work on the computer for prolonged periods of time. Swelling can occur after insect bites, allergic reactions, trauma, fractures or surgery with lymph node dissection (chronic lymphedema). See www.cancersupportivecare.com/lymphedema.html for more information. We offer suggestions for short and long term problems and specifically how to continue work on your computer while recovering from swelling.
The First treatment for swelling of any kind is elevation. The higher you can place your keyboard, the more advantageous.
- - Put pillows under your arms and place the keyboard on your lap.
- Tuck little pillows in your armpits.
- Elevate the keyboard with telephone books and put pillows on your desk as arm rests.
- If you have lymphedema in one arm only, consider using the keyboard on a slant by lifiting one side with books, pillows or foam.
- Use bean bags of varying sizes for the underarms and as a forearm rest.
- Cut a piece of foam at any angle that is comfortable for your particular problem. Electric knives are the easiest way to cut foam into shapes.
The Second treatment for edema is compression. Applying some outside pressure to send the fluid back into the lymph pathways will help dissipate the edema faster. There are compression gloves and various elastic wraps that can be purchased at the drug store. Sleeping with the compression and elevation at night will also expedite removal of the fluid from the tissue. (Always check with your medical team) For more complete information go to Cancer Supportive Care Lymphedema Issues
In the case of acute trauma such as surgery, the application of ice packs ( try frozen bags of peas or rice to mold to your body )once an hour for 10 minutes will help with swelling. In general heat will only increase edema during early onset (3 days).
Exercise is indicated as long as you have not fractured your arm or if a doctor hasn't restricted your activity. Muscle movements help to pump fluid out of the tissue and into the lymph pathways.
- - Isometric exercises such as squeezing a ball, using rubber tubing or light weights will help promote fluid movement.
- Exercises include opening/closing the hand, moving the wrist in circles as well as up and down, bend and straighten the elbow, lift the arm over the head, out to the side, behind the neck, behind the back and moving the arm in circles.
- Even typing, which utilizes the muscles of the fingers and lower arm, can facilitate movement of fluid into the pathways, thereby reducing lymphedema.
If the problem of lymphedema persists, you may need to peruse computer stores or catalogues selling ergonomic equipment for ways to adapt your computer. For instance, there are trackballs and computer mice of various shapes and sizes plus several models of keyboards to accomodate your needs. You may want to go into a computer store to try them for comfort. Try a cordless/wireless mouse and a cordless/wireless keyboard. These can be moved around to a more comfortable position than those that are attached to the CPU by a cable. A cordless gyroscopic mouse allows you to manipulate the mouse in mid-air (i.e., without having to roll it along a surface). It takes a bit of getting used to, but this aid may be particularly helpful for women with chronic lymphedema.
Reprinted with permission from Cancer Supportive Care
- Of Interest:
- Physical Medicine Approaches To Pain Relief
Helpful Tips for Lymphedema
Three Keys to Manage Breast Cancer-Related Lymphedema