Exercise and keeping active

Exercise is important for managing lymphoedema, because of the following reasons:

  • It works your muscles, which increases the flow of lymph fluid and helps move it away from the swollen area
  • It can help you maintain a healthy weight, which can reduce lymphoedema swelling.
  • It keeps your joints flexible, maintaining and improving your range of movement.

Exercise can also help you feel better about yourself and reduce stress and anxiety

Your lymphoedema specialist will explain some gentle exercises that are best for you. They will also tell you how many times a day you should do them. Lymphoedema Network Northern Ireland produce two leaflets that you may find useful. They explain how to do exercises for arms and legs.

Types of exercise

If you have not done exercise for a while, it is best to start slowly and build up. The most important thing is to do it regularly. The exercise you do will depend on your level of fitness. It could be gentle stretches, or something that you enjoy or have enjoyed before.

It is important to remember that swelling may increase if you exercise too quickly, too often or for long periods of time. Your skin may become red, sticky and hot. If this happens, you should stop and rest. You should not exercise if you have a skin infection (cellulitis).

There may be some types of exercise that you will need to take more care with. You may need to be careful if there is a high risk of muscle strain or skin injury. Always ask your lymphoedema specialist for advice and talk to your doctor before you start. Some good types of exercise include swimming, walking, doing stretching exercises and yoga. Swimming is helpful if you have problems with your joints, as it does not put strain on them. If you become more breathless or uncomfortable during exercise, or if swelling gets worse, stop and contact your specialist for advice.

Compression garments and exercise

If you have a compression garment, you usually need to wear it when you exercise. Speak to your specialist if you find this uncomfortable. Try to include deep breathing in any daily exercise routines, as this improves your circulation.

Daily activities

Keep using your affected limb for all your normal activities, but take care with anything that might cause muscle strain. You may have to wait until the swelling improves to do some of these activities.