Positioning and moving a limb with lymphoedema

Carefully positioning your affected limb when resting or sitting can prevent more swelling. Always avoid sitting with your legs down if you can, as this causes the fluid to drain into your feet and calves. Moving your muscles helps to move fluid around the body, so regular gentle movement or exercise prevents fluid from building up.

These tips will help you position your limb correctly.

If you have arm swelling

  • Rest your arm on a cushion placed on the arm of a chair so it’s fully supported, when sitting down.
  • Try not to rest your arm above shoulder height – it may reduce blood flow to your arm and increase discomfort.
  • Raise your arm slightly on a pillow when you’re lying down.
  • Avoid carrying heavy shopping or other loads with your affected arm.
  • Be careful when you use your affected arm for activities that involve a lot of repeated stretching. Some people find that too much activity can make the swelling worse, especially if they’re not used to it.
  • Try not to leave your arm in the same position for too long.

If you have leg swelling

  • Avoid crossing your legs when you’re sitting down.
  • Don’t sit with your legs down for long periods – either lie with your legs up on a sofa or sit with them fully supported on a footstool.
  • Get up and move about at least once an hour if you can.
  • Try not to leave your leg in the same position for too long.
  • Avoid standing still for long periods of time.

If you have to stand, do the following exercises to stimulate the pump action of your muscles:

  • Raise yourself up on to your toes frequently to tense and relax your calf muscles.
  • Shift your weight from one leg to the other, and transfer your weight from heels to toes, as if walking on the spot.
  • Try rocking back on your heels and forward onto your toes a few times.

On a normal day I'm lucky not to have any significant problems, although if I'm sitting down I’ll put my feet up whenever possible.