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Exercises for Lymphedema in the Legs

author image Kat Lieu
Kat Lieu was first published in "Seventeen" magazine in 2006. Following the publication of her short story, she published an inspirational piece for "PT Magazine" in 2008. In 2009, she self-published a young adult novel for Amazon Kindle. Holding a doctorate in physical therapy from SUNY Downstate, she is a licensed doctor of physical therapy and certified lymphedema therapist.
Exercises for Lymphedema in the Legs
Jogging to reduce lymphedema. Photo Credit exercising on the beach image by Galina Barskaya from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

A damaged or obstructed lymphatic system leads to lymph fluid swelling in the skin, otherwise known as lymphedema. Though there is no cure for lymphedema as of 2010, performing proper exercises can help reduce and treat lymphedema in the legs. Patients should consult a physical therapist, physician or lymphedema therapist prior to engaging in exercises.

Even with leg lymphedema, patients can lead active and healthy lives.

Deep Abdominal Breathing Exercise

A patient with lymphedema in the legs may benefit from performing deep abdominal breathing exercises. Ten deep and slow abdominal breaths---prior to other forms of exercises---stimulate the thoracic duct, the part of the body where the lymph fluid from the legs ultimately drains. With increased lymph fluid flow and drainage, lymphedema in the legs decreases.

Exercises in the Gym

According to the Lymphoedema Support Network, the leading support network for patients with lymphedema in the United Kingdom, "Exercise usually has a very positive impact on lymphoedema and is encouraged because muscle activity helps to promote lymphatic drainage." Gentle warm-ups and stretching are recommended prior to exercising. A patient should avoid aggressive leg stretching, which may damage lymphatic vessels. Using a recumbent bike, elliptical machine, treadmill, other machinery or weights stimulate lymph vessels and muscles to transport stagnant lymph fluid in the legs. Patients should exercise in moderation and avoid exhaustion and dehydration.

Regarding exercising, the National Lymphedema Network states, "For individuals with lymphedema, adequate compression should be utilized in the form of compression bandages or garments." The compression garments should be well-fitting, like a snug, second layer of skin. The recommended pressure of the compression garments is 30 to 40 mmHg.


Swimming is an excellent exercise for patients with lymphedema in the legs. Water exerts an external pressure on the legs. This pressure aids the transport and drainage of lymph fluid in the skin back into the lymph circulatory system. Swimming can stimulate the lymph vessels. According to the National Lymphedema Network, swimming "...enhances cardiovascular fitness, effective weight management and overall health and may specifically benefit lymphedema patients by improving venous and lymph flow." Swimming is also one of the few exercises patients with lymphedema can perform without wearing leg compression garments.

Aerobic Exercises

Dancing, running, jogging, cycling and other forms of sports or activities involving raising the heart rate, may be beneficial to patients with lymphedema in the legs. These forms of aerobic exercises may increase and stimulate lymph flow and drainage in the legs. When performing these activities, it is pertinent for the patient to wear compression garments to avoid increasing lymph fluid swelling in the legs.

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