Lymphedema Leg Exercises & Stretching: Tips and Techniques

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The lymphatic system is the system of the body that controls the regulation of the immune system and plays a key role in fighting disease. It is made up of a network of ducts, nodes, and vessels that pass through almost all bodily tissue. Fluid, called lymph, is circulated through the body by the lymphatic system, similar to the way blood is circulated. One of the best things you can do is to make sure you keep active and perform simple low-impact lymphedema leg exercises.

When these protein rich fluids are unable to drain through the body’s lymphatic system, bodily tissue can begin to swell. This is known as lymphedema, and commonly affects the legs and arms, but may also affect the neck, abdomen, chest wall, and genitals. Cancer treatments are a common cause of lymphedema, but any issue that blocks the ability for lymph fluid to drain can result in this ailment.

When cases of lymphedema become severe, it can seriously affect movement in the affected limb, and can lead to a breakdown of the skin and an increase in the risk of infections and sepsis. Treatments for severe lymphedema can include sequential pneumatic pumping, compression wraps for legs and arms, stockings, massage, close attention to skin care, and in rare cases, surgery to remove the swollen tissue.

Benefits of Lymphedema Leg Exercises

It was not so long ago that it was believed patients suffering with lymphedema should avoid exercising. This ideology was based on the observation that limbs affected by lymphedema were more at risk for injury. More recent studies have shown, however, that being more active can actually reduce, or prevent, severe cases of lymphedema. Targeted stretching exercises intended for lymphedema patients should be a regular part of every individual’s self-care routine.

Although lymphedema can affect various parts of the body, the legs and arms are the areas most commonly affected. Walking is a simple, low impact activity that is typically recommended to help reduce the progression of lymphedema and help patients get at least some form of daily activity.

While not technically considered to be exercise, stretching is an important way to help reduce and relieve the symptoms of lymphoedema. As with any new activity, you should consult with your doctor before making any changes to your physical daily routine. If you have undergone surgery or radiation for cancer, it’s important to keep in mind that your body needs time to heal before beginning any form of stretching routine. Once you can safely begin a daily regime of stretching exercises, remember to wear the appropriate compression garments to encourage the drainage of lymph fluid throughout your body.

Simple Lymphedema Leg Exercises

Hip Stretches: Lie flat on the floor on your back and begin by crossing one leg over the other. Pull that leg close to your chest by using your hands to hold the knee, and hold this position for 30 seconds. Alternate to the other leg and repeat 5 times per leg.

Sit/Kick: Sit upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Lift one leg straight out in front of you and hold it for 5 seconds. Lower your leg, and repeat with the other leg. Repeat this exercise with each leg 10-15 times.

Calf Stretches: Sit on the floor with your feet extended in front of you. Loop an exercise band or towel around the ball of your foot. With your back straight while you are sitting upright, hold the knee straight for 30 seconds. Alternate feet and repeat 5 times.

Invisible Letters: While seated in a chair, raise one foot in front of you and rotate the ankle to draw imaginary letters. Spell out the complete alphabet. Alternate the foot and repeat several times.

Hamstring Stretch: While sitting on the floor with your legs extended, reach for your toes and keep your back upright and in a straight position. Hold this for 30 seconds and repeat 5 times.

Marching: A simple stretching exercise is to simulate high-step marching while sitting in a chair. Sitting upright with your feet flat on the floor, raise one foot up to the height of the calf on your opposite leg while bending the knee. Rotate to the other foot and repeat 10-15 times. Remember to not lean back as you raise each foot.

Couple exercises for lymphedema

Although stretching is an easy, low impact way to ensure daily activity for lymphedema patients, it’s important to always remember that safety comes first. Before jumping right into your stretching routine, you should:

  1. Warm up: Muscles stretch more easily when they are warm. Warming up these muscles can be as simple as marching in place for 5 minutes, or even dancing to a song or two. A warm shower or a heat pack can help too.
  2. No Pain: Stretching is meant to relieve tension, not cause pain. If your stretching exercise hurts, stop! Re-adjust your position and try again. In time, regular stretching will improve your flexibility.
  3. Good Form and Posture: Good posture is always important, regardless of whether you’re moving, standing, or sitting. Maintaining good form while exercising will result in better flexibility and reduce the likelihood of injury when doing stretching exercises.
  4. Focus: It’s important to pay attention to the muscles you are stretching. You may notice that one side of your body is more tense than the other. By focusing, you will begin to balance this over time.
  5. Breathe: Proper breathing is important when stretching. Be sure to breathe comfortably, or practice yoga breathing, when stretching. Just be sure that you aren’t holding your breath when doing stretching exercises.
  6. Stretch Regularly: You’ll see the best results when you stretch daily, or as often as possible.


Stretching is a great way for lymphedema sufferers to relieve the symptoms and reduce the progression of the disease. As mentioned above, always consult your doctor before starting a new stretching routine, and wear the appropriate compression garments while exercising.

Lymphedema Products was founded with the intent of providing the highest quality service to the growing population of successfully-treated individuals with lymphedema and other medical edemas. As the leading exclusive supplier of lymphedema treatment supplies for over 23 years, we carry only the most advanced and medically-responsible products available for the safe and effective management of primary and secondary lymphedema, venous edema, and other edemas.

Lymphedema Products carries only the most current, ethically-sound, and medically-safe treatment tools for medical edemas approved by many of the world’s leading authoritative organizations including the International Society of Lymphology (ISL), the National Lymphedema Network (NLN), and many prominent educational institutions in the field of lymphedema management. By holding ourselves to the highest possible standard when selecting a product line to offer our customers, Lymphedema Products has become one of the most trusted leaders and valued partners in the field of medical edema management. Check out our line of lymphedema compression garments today.

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