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Exercises for Lymphedema in the Legs

author image Martin Booe
Martin Booe writes about health, wellness and the blues. His byline has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Bon Appetit. He lives in Los Angeles.
Exercises for Lymphedema in the Legs
Exercises for Lymphedema in the Legs Photo Credit: bowdenimages/iStock/GettyImages

Lymphedema, also known as lymphatic congestion, is the accumulation of fluid in the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. It occurs when lymph drainage is blocked. Swelling of a limb or limbs is the most common symptom.

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Lymphedema is most often caused by injury to or removal of lymph nodes during cancer treatment. Exercise is one of the best things you can do for lymphedema because circulation of lymphatic fluid depends on muscle contractions.

For lymphedema of the legs, exercises that work your body from the pelvis down to the tips of your toes help diminish the accumulation of fluid. You may also find it helpful to wear compression stockings when you exercise.

Read More: Essential Oils for Treating Lymphedema

Hip Flexes

Do hip flexes sitting, standing or lying down. Simply draw one knee in toward your chest as far as possible and then release it back down. Repeat with the other knee, as if you're marching in place.

Hip Abduction

Hip abductions can be done lying down or standing. From a prone position, lie on your back with your legs together and toes pointed forward. Slide one leg out to the side then bring it back inward then repeat with the other leg. If you're standing, brace yourself against a stable surface and extend one leg out to the side and slowly release.

Knee Extensions

Knee extensions can be done prone, standing or sitting.

Prone: Lie on your back and draw your heel toward your hips as you bend your leg upward from the knee, then extend your leg and release.

S**tanding:** Bending from the knee, lift your lower leg behind you until it's parallel to the floor, then release slowly.

Sitting: Simply raise your lower leg until it's nearly horizontal with your thigh and release.

Ankle Pumps

Lying on your back or sitting, flex each foot up and down in a pumping motion. Move at a slow, rhythmic pace.

Ankle Circles

Either lying down or sitting, rotate your ankle clockwise, creating as wide a circle as you can manage. Repeat in a counterclockwise direction. Perform on both legs.

Toe Scrunches

While lying or sitting, contract your toes as tightly as you can -- as if you're making a fist with your foot -- then retract them as far back as possible.

Simple breathing exercises improve lymphatic circulation.
Simple breathing exercises improve lymphatic circulation. Photo Credit: mheim3011/iStock/GettyImages

Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises can do a lot to boost lymph circulation because lymphatic circulation ebbs and flows with the breath. Diaphragmatic breathing is commonly recommended for people with lymphedema to improve the overall vitality of the lymphatic system. Breathing exercises cause a disparity in pressure that lets lymph drain back into the thorax. And you don't have to be experiencing lymphedema for your immune system to benefit from these breathing practices.

Perform diaphragmatic breathing by inhaling through the nose, using your stomach as a bellows while keeping your chest still. Exhaling through your mouth, using your stomach to push the air out. As you exhale, allow your stomach to relax.

Also beneficial is the yogic practice of Bellows Breath, which involves rapid movements of the diaphragm.

Read More: How to Lose Weight When You have Lymphedema

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