MOVE YOUR BODY! MOVE YOUR LYMPH!
Can exercise benefit lymphedema? We know through research that exercise helps move lymphatic fluid through our lymph system. When we move our body, we move our lymph! The lymph system is designed to work with your muscles and your circulatory system to remove waste and clean your bodies systems. Therefore, when you move those muscles, you’re enabling your lymph system to function at a higher level. Even simple actions like rocking your foot back and forth can help improve lymphatic flow. Do you enjoy rocking in a rocking chair or taking a stroll through the park? Even simple movement moves lymph. So yes, exercise does benefit those dealing with lymphedema.
EXERCISE FROM YOUR THERAPIST
Hopefully going through therapy, you were given exercise as part of your treatment. Are you still doing those exercises? Unlike some types of physical therapy where you might reach a point that the exercises are no longer necessary, lymphedema is a chronic condition. Therefore the benefits of exercise never diminishes. Lymphedema still cannot be cured, but it can be managed. Movement and exercise are part of that management. Are you in therapy for lymphedema at this time? Have you been given exercises to improve lymphatic flow in the affected area? Be sure to discuss the benefits of exercise with your lymphedema therapist and ask for suggestions as to what might work best for you.
GOOD OVERALL EXERCISES
Exercises prescribed by your physical therapist are designed to target specific areas that are affected by the lymphedema. There are also many good overall exercises that you can participate in, as well. These exercises should include stretching for range of motion. Use strengthening exercises to improve muscle performance. Endurance exercises will improve the efficiency of the heart, lungs and muscles. All exercises should incorporate good abdominal breathing, which stimulates lymph flow and lymphatic drainage. Exercises should be low intensity, gradual and pain free.
Swimming, walking, rebounding and gentle yoga are all good places to start. Start these exercises at low levels and gradually increase in intensity and length of time. Pay attention to your body and do not push yourself to the point of fatigue. Listen to your body! This is not a no pain, no gain type of regimen.
WEARING COMPRESSION GARMENTS WHILE EXERCISING
While exercising, it’s important to wear your compression garments. However, some people are able to do water exercise without compression garments, as water acts like compression on the body. This is something you will have to determine for yourself. While in the water, does your body start to swell? Or does it maintain its size? If you see issues with swelling, you can use an older set of compression garments while exercising in water. Then wear your newer garments when you are finished.
Why is it important to wear compression while exercising? Compression garments increase the efficiency of the muscles to move the fluid from the limb(s). Without the compression, the increased circulation and increased production of lymph fluid can collect in the areas that are swollen.
STARTING OUT RIGHT
As always, get your doctor or lymphedema therapist’s approval and guidance before you start an exercise program. If any exercise seems to cause you problems or results in further swelling, STOP and seek professional advice at once.
Sigvaris, one of my compression manufacturers, created a mini webinar to help get you started incorporating exercise into your treatment program:
YES, exercise does benefit lymphedema and improve your health in general! Therefore, take a stroll, stretch your body, go for a swim or bounce on a rebounder. Whatever your choice, move that lymph and don’t forget to have fun while you’re at it!
For further information about lymphedema and exercise check out these links: