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Exercise with Lymphedema

Exercise and movement increase the lymphatic flow, help to maintain a healthy weight, and improve your overall well-being.

Exercise with Lymphedema

How do exercise and movement support lymphedema treatment?

Exercise and movement are elements of Complex Decongestive Therapy (CDT) and are part of both the decongestion phase (Phase I) and the maintenance phase (Phase II).

Regular exercise increases your muscles pump activity and thereby improves the lymphatic flow. Doing exercise, especially while wearing compression bandages or garments, is an effective way to reduce your lymphedema. Also, with exercise, you build up muscle strength, and it will be easier to maintain a healthy weight. Being active is also beneficial for your emotional well-being; it acts as a natural antidepressant.

Increase your activity step by step

The goal of regular exercise and movement is, at first, to maintain the normal function and mobility of your swollen limb. Depending on your symptoms and the cause of your lymphedema, you can increase your activity step by step.

Physiotherapy can improve your mobility and joint function. It also supports lymphedema treatment after cancer therapy to reduce pain, treat scar tissue, and maintain or restore your limb's function.

What kind of exercise works best with lymphedema?

Exercise programs for lymphedema usually combine training to improve flexibility, build up or maintain muscle strength, and aerobic exercises.

You can start to implement resistance bands in your training that can gradually increase your strength. Training with weights might be an option as well. Good examples of aerobic exercises are Yoga, Pilates, Nordic Walking, cycling, or exercise in water.

However, as not all exercise programs are suitable with lymphedema, you should always talk about your exercise plans with your healthcare professional (HCP) before you start.

How do I start with exercise?

Consult your HCP before you start exercising as not every type of exercise is suitable for lymphedema. Here are a few things that you should keep in mind:

  • Start slowly and increase slowly. Even if you have been exercising before, it is important to be patient.
  • Avoid overexertion – this can increase your edema.
  • Always implement a warm-up and cool-down.
  • Avoid hot tubes, saunas, or steam rooms – these can increase your swelling as well.
  • Stop your exercise when your limbs feel tired, uncomfortable, or aches.
  • Recovery is important – rest and elevate your limbs at night.
  • Always wear your compression garments during exercising. One exception is training in water because this would damage the material of your compression garments.

Besides exercise, balanced nutrition is another key element of a healthy lifestyle.

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