Excercise and Movement
How exercise helps lymphoedema
Exercise and increased activity helps lymph fluid move through the lymphatic system. This helps to reduce lymphoedema swelling because exercise makes the muscles contract and push lymph through the lymph vessels; encouraging drainage. Exercise can also help to reduce muscle/joint stiffness and sustains full range of movement and generally makes you feel better.
Before you start any exercise, talk to your doctor or lymphoedema specialist. They will advise you about what you should and shouldn’t do. They may be able to work out an exercise programme for you.
It is important to start gentle exercise and build up slowly. If you haven’t done any exercise for a while, walking can be a good way to start. You can gradually increase the distance and the pace. Other helpful types of exercise are cycling, swimming, and gentle aerobics or water aerobics.
The Lymphoedema Support Network (LSN) has 2 DVDs that include information about exercises for leg and arm lymphoedema.
Please click on the link below to see the DVDs available:
Deep breathing before any exercise helps to clear the lymphatic system in your chest. This allows lymph to flow into the lymph system in the chest from the area with lymphoedema. Deep breathing is helpful for all types of lymphoedema, including swelling in the head and neck area. It works by changing the pressure in your abdomen and chest, which encourages lymph to flow back into the blood. Deep breathing can also help you to relax.
You can do these breathing exercises while sitting up in a chair or in bed, or while lying down.
- Relax your shoulders and upper chest
- Take a slow, deep, comfortable breath in and hold it for a couple of seconds
- Then slowly breathe out
- Do this 10 times
When you are sitting or lying down it can help to position/elevate your affected limb(s) which will encourage the lymph to drain. This can be done by simply elevating your affected limb(s) just slightly above heart level either on cushions/pillows or foot stools depending on the area of lymphoedema.
For more in-depth information on recreational exercise see: Recreational exercise
Exercise Programme for Lymphoedema of the leg
It is important that you exercise your leg daily. These exercises help lymphatic drainage and maintain the mobility of your leg.
DO wear you compression garment.
Repeat all exercises 5 times, at least 2 x a day
Lie on your bed
- Place both hands on your belly, just under your ribs. Breathe in slowly through your nose and feel your fingers slowly moving out. Hold for 2 seconds, then breath out slowly through your mouth and feel your fingers move back in as your tummy relaxes.
- With both kness up, gently roll your knees from side to side
- Squeeze your buttocks together, then relax
- Tighten and or relax your thigh and knee muscle (press your knee down in the bed)
- Bend and stretch your feed at the ankle
- Circle your feet at the ankle clockwise / anti clockwise
Take a few minutes rest after the exercises.
These exercises should be done slowly in a rhythmical position. They should not cause discomfort.
Rest and elevate your leg at regular intervals throughout the day.
You may have been given other exercises by your nurse, doctor of physiotherapist for range of movement. Please continue these as instructed.
Exercise Programme for Lymphoedema of the arm
It is important that you exercise your arm on a daily basis in order to maintain mobility and enhance drainage of lymph fluid. It is important to build up the amount of exercise you are doing gradually. It is recommended you wear you garment during exercises/activities. Your Lymphoedema Nurse will advise you how many times to do the exercises.
Get in a comfortable position prior to starting the exercises.
- Deep breaths – Place both hands on your tummy, just under your ribs. Breathe in slowly through your nose and feel your fingers slowly moving out. Hold for 2 seconds, then breath out slowly through your mouth with a sigh and feel your fingers move back in as your stomach relaxes.
- Slowly turn your head from side to side
- Lift and relax your shoulders and then circle and relax your shoulders
- Slow ‘combing’ hair action
- With forearm supported, bend and stretch hand at wrist joint
- Stretch your arms behind your back towards the centre of your back
- Bend elbow, moving hand towards shoulder
- Make a fist then stretch fingers out
- With your thumb, touch each finger tip
- Deep breathe
These exercises should be done slowly in a rhythmical fashion. They should not cause discomfort.
Rest and elevate your arm at regular intervals throughout the day.
You may have been given other exercises by your nurse, doctor or physiotherapist for specific reasons. Please continue these as instructed.