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Exercise

  • Important information about exercises

    Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. Talk with him or her about any medical problems that may limit your ability to exercise.

    If you have lymphedema, wear compression bandages or compression garments during exercises. They give your muscles firm support when the muscles contract (tighten).

    This increases the "muscle pump" which helps the fluid leave your arm or leg.

    Exercise provides you with many physical benefits. It can also improve your self-esteem and psychological well-being.

    Exercises to manage lymphedema in your arm or leg

    Your arm or leg may feel tight, stiff and sore with lymphedema. Exercises will help after surgery to improve flexibility, strength and to move lymphatic fluid.

    Your therapist may have you wear your bandages or compression garments during exercise.

    Abdominal breathing

    • Changing the pressure in your abdomen creates a "suction effect" to help increase the flow of lymph fluid.

    Flexibility exercises

    • These help to prevent or decrease the tightness in your arm or leg, help the flow of lymph fluid and improve the use of your arm or leg.
    • The best exercise is a gentle stretch while you breathe deeply. Do not hold your breath. A specific exercise program will be designed for you.

    Strengthening exercises

    • Muscle tightening helps speed the flow of lymph fluid. When your muscles contract (tighten), the pumping action of the lymph vessels increases. This helps the fluid move out of your arm or leg.
    • Exercise in moderation and increase your exercises slowly.
    • If you are lifting weights, use one- to two-pound weights:- Start with one set of five to 10 repetitions. Work your way to three sets of 10 repetitions with each exercise.
    • If you are straining to lift weights, your lymph system may not be able to handle the increase in fluid.
    • Stop the exercise as soon as your arm or leg begins to feel tired.
    • After doing your exercises, watch your arm or leg for swelling. If you see swelling, lie down and raise your arm or leg. Make sure to use lighter weights the next time you exercise.
    • If you had no swelling and the exercise was moderately easy, you may add a few repetitions to your next session.
    • Talk with your doctor or lymphedema therapist about using resistant or stretch bands. The bands come in many levels of resistance. The band color tells you the resistance level.

    Aerobic activities

    • Breathing faster helps speed the flow of lymph fluid. Aerobic exercise can help you beat fatigue and give you more energy for your everyday activities.
    • Aerobic exercise can help keep you from gaining weight. Do aerobic exercises 20 to 30 minutes at a time at least five times a week.
    • You may need to start by only doing five minutes at a time and work up gradually. Good types of aerobic exercises include walking (treadmill, outdoors or at a mall), biking, light aerobics and swimming.