Exercise and Lymphoedema

An important part in the prevention and or self-management of Lymphoedema is exercise. Exercise has many benefits with improvement in muscle strength, physical fitness and better performance of every day functional tasks. But now there are even more reasons to exercise as part of your daily routine and you don’t have to wait till you have finished your cancer treatment. Research demonstrates that exercise helps you fight fatigue and improves your overall feeling of wellbeing. Please discuss with your treating oncologist and Lymphoedema therapist for specific recommendations based on your individual needs.

Firstly, let’s start with increasing your physical activity levels. The World Health Organisation recommends we get 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise. This means your heart rate should increase slightly but you should still be able to talk can be broken down into small time slots like 10 minutes morning and afternoon but try and incorporate at least one session of 30 minutes. Exercising increases your breathing rate and the amount of lung expansion which will improve your lymphatic flow.  This can be as simple as walking, cycling or even gentle gardening around the home but remember to cover up those arms and protect those hands from thorny bushes and sunburn. 

Secondly, targeted strength exercises. An increase in muscle strength improves the muscle pump action also improving lymphatic flow. Note it is important to continue your basic lymphatic drainage daily to check for blockages and empty the lymph nodes. Your therapist will prescribe a routine just for you. 

Thirdly, continue with your stretching exercises commenced post surgery. This is important to maintain or improve flexibility especially around scar regions. Try and incorporate whole body movements such as trunk rotation and side flexion with shoulder and arm movements 

Make sure you discuss your exercise regime with your medical team and Lymphoedema therapists to check you are exercising safely. Modifications may need to be made according to the medications you are on and also if you develop chemo induced peripheral neuropathies.

Lastly, have fun with your exercise routine. Sometimes just simply putting on your favourite music and dancing can release pent up stress hormones and increase endorphin levels. Also, think about joining a local exercise group or enlist the help of a family member or friend to join you on exercise activities