In tonight’s post, I’m going to discuss decongestive exercises that help pump lymphatic fluid up and out of your affected limb. First of all, though, it’s important to note that these exercises should be performed while wearing your compression garment or bandages and loose-fitting clothing – nothing tight or restrictive! Ideally, these exercises are performed two to three times a day for about 10-15 minutes a pop, while making sure to rest and elevate your limb for at least 10 minutes following the exercises.
The following exercises are adapted from LymphedemaBlog.com – all credit goes to Joachim Zuther, Lymphedema Specialist.
Exercises for the Upper Extremity
These exercises are performed sitting on a stool or chair, without leaning back, although some are performed lying on the floor. Practicing some breathing exercises before you start are helpful to prepare your body for the session.
Turn your head slowly, and look to the right as far as possible. Return to face forward, and then repeat to the left side.
Bend your head to the right and try to touch your ear to your shoulder (do not move your shoulder!). Return to the starting position and then repeat for the left side.
Do two or three repetitions of each.
- Rotate your shoulders alternately on the right and left side. Roll both your shoulders forwards and backwards. Do three to five repetitions.
- Shrug both shoulders and inhale, exhaling while your shoulders relax. Again, do three to five repetitions.
Place your palms and fingers together. Starting with your pinky, move them away from each other and then bring them back together. Continue with each of your fingers.
Alternately, you can hold your palms – facing up – out in front of your body. Move your thumb and index finger together so that the pads are touching, then return to an open hand. Next, move your thumb and ring finger together, repeating the process until you have moved each finger to meet your thumb.
Do three to five repetitions.
Make a fist and hold for about three seconds. Open the fist and relax the hand for another three seconds, then make a fist again, rotating your wrist clockwise and counter-clockwise. Touch your fist to the opposite shoulder.
Do three to five repetitions, alternating between hands and keeping the relaxed hand resting on your leg.
Arm and Hand Exercises
- Stretch out your arm and lean forward, making a fist as you return your hand to your leg. Do three to five repetitions.
- Hold your arms above your head and “climb” an imaginary ladder as high as you can stretch, while remaining seated. Alternate between arms and continue for about thirty to forty seconds.
- “Breastsroke” as far as you can while seated. Then, move your arms to the side and then to the knees before bringing them to the front again. Three to five repetitions!
- Place the palm of one hand on the opposite knee and push down, while pressing upwards with your knee. Hold this for five seconds. Do three to five repetitions, alternating between arms.
Exercises using a Broomstick
- Holding the stick vertically between your knees, walk your hands up and down the stick as you alternate hands. Three to five repetitions.
- Hold the stick horizontally with both hands, palms facing up. Lift the stick up and towards your head, and then return to the original position. Repeat three to five times.
- Hold the stick horizontally with both hands about a foot apart, palms facing down. Attempt to wring the stick, rotating one wrist forward and the other back. Hold for three to five seconds before wringing in the other direction. Do three to five repetitions.
- Hold the stick horizontally with both hands about a foot apart, palms facing down. Paddle to either side with big strokes. Do three to five repetitions.
Exercises for the Lower Extremity
These exercises are best performed lying on the floor, preferably on a yoga mat. Remember to practice proper breathing during the session! A small pillow can be placed under your knees to avoid back strain.
Foot and Leg Exercises
*Most of these can be performed by alternating between feet, or by doing both at once. Do what’s comfortable for you!
- Curl your toes and squeeze for about three seconds, followed by three seconds of relaxing the toes. Three to five repetitions.
- Spread your toes as far as possible, holding for three seconds. Relax for three seconds. Repeat three to five times.
- Flex the foot as far as possible at the ankle, with toes pointing away from the body. Hold for about three seconds, and then flex the floor as far as possible at the ankle, pointing your toes to your shin. Relax for three seconds, and then repeat three to five times.
- Rotate your foot at the ankle, clockwise and counter-clockwise. Do three to five repetitions.
- Lying on your back, move your legs in the air as if you are pedaling a bicycle. Do this for about one minute.
- While lying down, move the heel of your foot as close as possible to your buttocks. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg. Do three to five repetitions.
- Lift one knee and push the palm of the opposite hand against it, holding for about three seconds. Relax for another three seconds, and then repeat, alternating sides. Do three to five repetitions.
- Bend the knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Raise your buttocks off the floor and hold for about three seconds, then lower it back to the floor, relaxing for another three seconds. Do three to five repetitions.
Walking is great exercise for those with lower extremity lymphedema! If you use a Stairmaster or treadmill, keep it on a low setting so as to avoid straining or soreness. Always remember to walk at a normal gait, taking care not to drag your affected limb. No limping!
Links for More Information
- Stretching exercises (video)
- Arm exercises (video)
- Arm exercises with a Wand (video)
- Leg exercises (video)
- Exercises for Lymphedema
Remember to perform your movements in a slow and controlled manner – you don’t want to stress your body any more than it already is! The relaxation phase after you finish should be at least as long as the time you spent actually exercising, while remembering to keep your limb elevated.
Good luck, and happy exercising!