Leg Exercises and Stretches to Manage Lymphedema
People used to believe that it was best to avoid exercise if you suffer from lymphedema. In part, this was based on the observation that limbs at risk for lymphedema are more sensitive to injury. However, it has been shown that staying active can actually prevent or mitigate the condition. Targeted stretches and exercises for lymphedema should be a part of everyone’s regular self-care routine.
Reduce lymphedema swelling with physical fitness
Lymphedema may affect different areas of the body, but the legs and arms are among the most common sites of this condition. It typically results from cancer treatments, such as surgical removal of adjacent lymph nodes, or radiation therapy to destroy a tumor. Walking is often recommended as a simple, non-stressful way to get in some daily activity and help limit the progression of your condition.
Of course, all sorts of approaches to self-care become especially important when a person receives a diagnosis of lymphedema. Lymphedema is a chronic condition. It’s important to be proactive about your self-care in order to minimize lymphedema’s toll on your overall health, and, ideally, to help slow its progression.
Best exercises for lymphedema in the legs
Exercise takes many forms. In general, anything that gets you up and moving can contribute to your daily requirement for activity and exercise. Being overly sedentary has been recognized as an independent risk factor for a number of serious “lifestyle” diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and heart disease. Conversely, moving promotes overall good health.
Exercise can be aerobic — think anything that makes your heart beat faster and your breathing accelerates — but it can also be static, which typically means working the muscles against weights, while stationary. Both forms of exercise are beneficial. For example, people with lymphedema of the arms can definitely benefit from doing simple weight-lifting exercises, such as bicep curls, using relatively small weights.
Stretching may not technically be an exercise, but it should be another important component of your self-care routine. Always consult with your healthcare professional before beginning any new fitness programs. But in general, your doctor is likely to agree that stretching is a good place to start, especially after you’ve undergone surgery or radiation for cancer therapy. Keep in mind that your body will need adequate time to heal from any surgery before it’s safe to engage in stretching exercises. Remember to wear appropriate compression gear to help foster lymph drainage throughout your body.
There are many different kinds of stretches, but here are just a few examples. Assuming you have endured damage to the groin or pelvis, you will need to rehabilitate your legs.
Begin by sitting in a chair, with your feet flat on the floor. Raise one leg out in front of you and hold it for a count of five seconds. Lower the leg, then repeat with the other leg. Do this with each leg, 10–15 times.
Raise a foot out in front of you while seated, rotating the ankles to make imaginary letters. Spell out the alphabet in mid-air. Repeat several times, alternating from one foot to the other.
Marching Towards Fitness
Another simple stretching/strengthening exercise begins by sitting upright in a chair, feet flat on the floor. Raise one foot up to about the height of the opposite calf, bending at the knee, then return the foot to the floor, and repeat with the other foot. Try not to lean back as you raise your foot. In essence, you are simulating a high-stepping march while seated. Repeat 10–15 times.
Sitting on the floor, feet extended in front of you, loop a towel or strap around the ball of your foot. Back straight, sitting upright, gently pull, holding the knee straight. Hold for 30 seconds. Alternate feet, and repeat five times.
Sitting on the floor with your legs extended in front of you, reach for your toes, while keeping your back straight and upright. Hold for 30 seconds and alternate legs. Repeat five times.
Lie on the floor on your back. Cross one leg over the other. Pull it close to your chest by reaching out with your hands and holding the knee. Hold for 30 seconds. Alternate leg, and repeat; five times per leg.