Exercise is an important part of lymphoedema treatment. It can improve lymphoedema because it:
- increases the flow of lymph fluid by working your muscles
- helps lymph fluid move away from the swollen area
- strengthens your muscles
- keeps your joints flexible, maintaining and improving your range of movement
- improves your posture.
Exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight. This can help to reduce lymphoedema swelling. It can also help you feel better in yourself, and reduce stress and anxiety.
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. The most important thing is to do it regularly. If you have not done exercise for a while, it is best to start slowly and build up.
Gentle stretching exercises can help reduce and control lymphoedema. Your lymphoedema specialist will explain the best exercises for you. They will also tell you how many times a day you should do them. We describe some simple exercises to reduce arm and leg swelling at the end of this section (see below). Talk to your lymphoedema specialist about other exercises you are thinking of doing.
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.
The right amount of exercise or activity will vary from person to person. 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).