Exercises to Relieve Lymphedema

Exercise is a highly successful method for limiting the effects of lymphedema. Numerous studies have indicated that exercising increases life expectancy, reduces the risk of heart disease, and increases bone and muscle strength. Exercises that target lymphedema play a vital role in lymphedema therapy and have the added benefits of controlling swelling, increasing mobility, and minimizing pain.

Working with your Certified Lymphedema Therapist to build an exercise program to your needs is the first step. The exercises we include here are not meant to substitute your current exercise program. Instead, they are meant to aid the program you are on and add a helpful variety of stretches and exercises you can do to alleviate swelling. 

Beginning Your Lymphedema Exercise Plan

Before you begin exercising, you should know that starting slow and methodically is ideal for your long-term success. You need to ease yourself into the movements that you are doing. Over time, you will be able to increase the speed and intensity of your activities. Think of your exercise program as a journey to a healthier you; each step gets you closer to where you want to be.

At no point during your exercises should you feel pain. Some stretches and exercises may cause slight discomfort due to inflexibility, but they should never cause pain. If you experience pain with any of your exercises, discuss it with your lymphedema therapist. Your program may need to be modified to suit your current mobility, or you may need further education on properly executing each movement. 

Always monitor your symptoms before and after exercising. If anything changes (i.e. increase in pain or swelling), take note and let your therapist know. If the changes persist past a few days, you may need to change your activities, rest, or receive another aspect of lymphedema therapy. 

Lymphedema Exercises

Depending on your current state, your lymphedema exercise plan will likely have a combination of aerobic and static exercises. Aerobic exercises elevate your heart rate and are cardio-focused, while static exercises strengthen specific muscles. An aerobic exercise could include leg lifts, walking, light jogging, or an evening hike. A static exercise could include arm and leg raises, neck stretches, and strength training. Both types of exercises are important as they encourage your body’s weight to be balanced. 

With the exercises listed below, please gently move through them and focus on form over speed.  If you find these are not effective for you, see your lymphedema therapist for more applicable exercises.

All exercises should be completed with good posture: head back and shoulders straight.

Elbow Extension 

Use light weights for this exercise (water bottles or cans of beans will do). While laying flat on the ground, take a weight in each hand. Lift your arms over your body. Then, bend your arms at a 90-degree angle toward your face. Hold here for 5 seconds. Then, raise your arms again. Repeat this movement 10 times. If, at any point, you feel strain, take a few moments to rest. 

Leg Kicks (Beginner Version)

To start, find a stable seat that allows you to maintain an upright posture. When seated and with both feet on the floor, raise one leg until it is straightened out. Hold for 5 seconds and then place back on the floor. Repeat 5-10 times for each leg. 

Neck Turns

Just as it sounds, this stretch involves turning your head from left to right. With good posture, slowly turn your head to one side and hold for a few seconds. Do the same on the opposite side. Repeat this 10 times (5 turns for each side). 

Continuing to Exercise

Incorporating exercise into your daily routine will help you to be consistent. You can find exercises to do based on the season as well. The springtime is perfect for evening walks. In the summer, you could go swimming. The fall could include a visit with the family to a pumpkin patch and cornfield maze. Winter holiday shopping at the mall counts as exercise too. 

Exercising does not have to be a boring activity. It can be a fun way of living your life. Find activities that excite you and will get you moving. Whether that be salsa dance classes or sunset walks with a friend, find exercises that appeal to you. Combined with your lymphedema exercises, you will have a varied routine that gets you on track to a recovered and healthier you.

Partner with Us for Your Lymphedema Exercise Program

At Oncology Rehabilitation and Wellness, we partner with our patients to reach their cancer recovery goals. Our Certified Lymphedema Therapist has the unique skills and experience required to create and adjust an exercise program to your needs. 

You can learn more about our Certified Lymphedema Therapist here. Our free 15-minute consultations will help you determine if our lymphedema services are right for you. Contact us to sign up.