Managing Lymphedema

Self Management

Although lymphedema is a chronic condition that requires ongoing management throughout one’s life, it is possible to lead a relatively normal lifestyle. The link below includes information developed by the Dr. Vodder School International, and provides a number of important techniques that can assist in the daily management of those living with Lymphedema.

Exercise

Exercise is an important self-management practice for individuals with lymphedema or who are at risk for lymphedema, as it is for any healthy lifestyle. A wide variety of exercises are available, however it is important to consider that there is always the risk that some forms of exercise may worsen the lymphedema, or cause lymphedema in ‘at risk’ individuals.

Individuals who are at risk are those who are not displaying any signs or symptoms of lymphedema but may have sustained damage to their lymphatic system through surgical procedures or radiation. They also include those who have a family history of lymphedema.

The level of risk may change over time with fluctuations in weight or increases in scar tissue formation. It is difficult to assess the degree of risk that an individual has, as early detection techniques may not be available or are not reliable enough to depend on.

The following criteria are provided to reduce the possibility of problems when choosing to participate in any form of exercise:

  • Before starting any exercise program individuals with or at risk for lymphedema should check with their physician or healthcare provider.
  • A properly fitted and prescribed compression garment should be worn on the affected or at risk limb during the exercise session.
  • Moderation should be practiced during the performance of the activity to prevent fatigue, trauma and overuse of the edemic area.
  • Modifications to activities should be considered if the exercise could potentially harm the lymphatic vessels in the affected area.
  • Activities that are performed in any environment with elevated temperatures should be avoided (i.e. hot yoga).
  • Resistance and/or aerobic exercises are safe, however it should be undertaken gradually and at a lower intensity than usual.
  • Exercise or activities that involve the possibility of blunt trauma or being struck by a fast moving object should be avoided.
  • Aquatic exercise, particularly those performed below the surface of the water, have been shown in valid studies to be of benefit in reducing lymphedema.

Position Statement: Exercise I
Position Statement: Exercise II
Exercise for Limb Lymphoedema: Evidence that it is Beneficial

Lymphedema Exercises

Exercises that involve gentle, active, repetitive, and non-resistance movement have been shown to improve lymph flow and reduce lymphedema. The following exercises have been developed and provided by the Dr. Vodder School International to promote lymph flow: