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Exercise with Lymphoedema

Exercise and movement increase the lymphatic flow, help to maintain a healthy weight, and improve your overall well-being.

Exercise with Lymphoedema

How does exercise and movement support your lymphoedema treatment?

Exercise and movement are elements of Complex Decongestive Therapy (CDT) and are part of both the decongestion phase (Phase I) and the maintenance phase (Phase II).

Regular exercise increases your muscle pump activity and improves the lymphatic flow. Doing exercise, especially while wearing compression bandages or garments, is an effective way to reduce your swelling. Exercise will increase your muscle strength and help you maintain a healthy weight. Being active is also beneficial for your emotional well-being; it acts as a natural antidepressant.

Increase your activity step-by-step

The goal of regular exercise and movement is, at first, to maintain the normal function and mobility of your swollen limb. Depending on your symptoms and the cause of your lymphoedema, you can increase your activity step-by-step.

Physiotherapy can improve your mobility and joint function. It also supports lymphoedema treatment after cancer therapy to reduce pain, treat scar tissue, and maintain or restore your limb's function.

What kind of exercise works best with lymphoedema?

Exercise programs for lymphoedema usually combine training to improve flexibility, build up or maintain muscle strength, and aerobic exercises.

You can start to implement resistance bands in your training that can gradually increase your strength. Training with weights might be another option to consider. Good examples of aerobic exercises are Yoga, Pilates, Nordic Walking, cycling, or exercise in water.

How do I start with exercise?

Consult your HCP before you start exercising as not every type of exercise is suitable for lymphoedema. You should:

  • Start slowly and increase slowly. Even if you have been exercising before, it is important to be patient
  • Avoid overexertion – this may increase your oedema
  • Always implement a warm-up and cool-down
  • Avoid hot tubs, saunas or steam rooms – these can increase your swelling
  • Stop your exercise when your limbs feel tired, uncomfortable, or ache
  • Recovery is important – rest and elevate your limbs at night
  • Always wear your compression garments during exercise. One exception is swimming will damage your garment but an old garment can be worn 

Besides exercise, balanced nutrition is another key element of a healthy lifestyle. Have a look at our Nutrition Guide for some healthy eating tips.

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