Can You Exercise When You Have a Seroma?

low angle view of a woman working out with dumbbells on the beach
You may need to modify your exercise routine if you have a seroma. (Image: George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

When you undergo a surgery that removes tissue — mastectomy or liposuction, for example — your body sometimes fills the space with fluid. This is called a seroma — an internal blister. A seroma is often painless and may not require treatment, but some types of inflammation may hamper your recovery and require draining. If you’ve developed a post-surgery seroma, ask your doctor whether you can safely exercise.

Surgery and Seroma

A seroma is a fairly common complication of breast cancer surgery — both following the removal of breast tissue and breast reconstruction procedures. It occurs when blood vessels sustain damage during surgery. Inflammation may develop under your arm. You may also develop a seroma after procedures such as a Cesarean section, abdominal surgery, hernia surgery and partial breast radiation therapy. Injuries may also cause a seroma, which are usually visible and appear as lumps under your skin.

Factors

The location of your seroma and your overall post-operative condition will affect your ability to exercise. The type of exercise you normally perform is also a factor. If you’ve developed a seroma after facial plastic surgery, for example, it might be safe for you to ride a stationary bicycle but not to run. Talk to your doctor about your specific situation. Some evidence suggests that delaying shoulder exercises designed to help women recover from mastectomies may prevent the formation of a seroma.

Study

A study published in the “Annals of Surgical Oncology” found that women who delayed performing shoulder exercises for one week following a radical modified mastectomy proved less likely to develop a seroma than women who began the exercises earlier. Researchers at the Karolinska Institute at Danderyd Hospital in Sweden also found that delaying shoulder exercises for a week did not impair shoulder function. But the findings, published in June 1997, may not align with your doctor’s views. And the cause of seroma after breast cancer surgery is still not completely understood, according to an article in the December 2006 issue of the “ANZ Journal of Surgery.”

Considerations

If your seroma needs to be drained, talk to your doctor about when you can return to your normal exercise routine after the draining procedure. A seroma may refill with liquid and need to be drained more than once. If you’re planning an elective surgery, such as a tummy tuck, discuss the risk of a seroma with your doctor and how the complication might affect your exercise regimen. A seroma may take as little as a month or up to a year to reabsorb into your body. If a seroma causes you pain or appears infected, contact your doctor.

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