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Exercises to Reduce Lymphedema Swelling

author image Jennifer Andrews
Jennifer Andrews specializes in writing about health, wellness and nutrition. Andrews has a Master of Science in physical therapy from the University of Alberta as well as a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. She teaches yoga and pilates and is a recent graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.
Exercises to Reduce Lymphedema Swelling
Reduce lymphedema swelling with stretching, cardio and strength training. Photo Credit: Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images

Lymphedema, which is a common condition in cancer treatment patients, can be reduced and improved with exercise. It occurs when lymph fluid builds up in certain areas of the body and causes swelling. Exercise is beneficial because the action helps push lymph through the lymph vessels for drainage. Consult your doctor before starting any exercises that could help or hinder your medical condition and health.

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Move Your Neck and Face

Reduce swelling in the head and neck with range of motion exercises. Move your neck up by looking towards the ceiling and down by tucking your chin towards your chest. Rotate your neck to the left to look over your shoulder, return to start and then rotate to look over your right shoulder. Repeat each exercise 10 times at a gentle pace to avoid straining the neck. Exercising the facial muscles by opening and closing your mouth as well as smiling and frowning can also help drain excess fluid from tissues in the area.

Exercise The Arms

Breast cancer patients are prone to lymphedema in the arms and chest after surgery and treatment. Lift the arm up overhead and back down, behind your back and out to the side. Other exercises include reaching your hand up behind your back, flexing and extending the wrist and making a tight fist. Start with shoulder exercises and follow with exercises for the elbow, wrist and hand. Do 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise and do two to three sets per day.

Drain The Legs

Exercises to decrease lymphedema in the legs include range of motion for the ankles, knees and hips. Ankle pumps are essential for the reduction of swelling in the feet, ankles and lower legs. Move the ankles up and down and point the toes towards you and away from you. Furthermore, your legs should be elevated while in a seated or resting position to drain excess fluid. Other exercises include knee kicks, marching and hip flexion and extension. Repeat each exercise 10 to 12 times for two to three sets.

Consider This

All exercises for lymphedema should be prescribed or approved by a physician and/or physical therapist. Do not attempt or continue any exercises that are uncomfortable or make pain worse as this could cause further health complications. Speak with your physical therapist about wearing a compression stocking or garment as this also helps reduce excess swelling.

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