Positioning and moving a limb with lymphoedema

Careful positioning when resting or sitting can reduce swelling for lymphoedema in an arm, leg, or the head and neck. Avoid sitting with your legs down. This causes the fluid to drain into your feet and calves. Also, moving your muscles helps move fluid around the body. So regular, gentle movement or exercise stops fluid building up.

These tips will help you correctly position the area affected by lymphoedema.

If you have arm swelling

  • Place a cushion on the arm of a chair. Rest your arm on this when sitting down. This will fully support it and raise it slightly.
  • Try not to lift your arm above shoulder height for too long. It may reduce blood flow to your arm and make you more uncomfortable.
  • Try not to leave your arm in the same position for too long.

If you have leg swelling

  • Sit with your legs uncrossed.
  • Raise your legs as often as you can when you are sitting. Lie with your legs up on a sofa, or fully supported on a footstool.
  • Try not to keep your leg in the same position for too long.
  • Get up and move about at least once an hour if you can.
  • Avoid standing still for long periods of time.

If you have to stand for a long time, exercises can help stop fluid building up:

  • Raise yourself up on to your toes and lower back down again. This helps to tense and relax your calf muscles.
  • Shift your weight from one leg to the other. Transfer your weight from heels to toes, as if you are walking on the spot.
  • Try rocking back on your heels and forward onto your toes a few times.

If you have head and neck swelling

It can help lymph fluid to drain if you slightly raise your head and upper body while you sleep. You can do this by:

  • raising the head of the bed slightly, for example by using blocks under the legs of the bed
  • using a foam wedge under your upper body and head
  • using pillows.

Try to keep your head in-line with your body, so your neck is not bent too far forward. This will help fluid to drain.

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.

Anne