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 – 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.

Neck Exercises

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.

Shoulder Exercises

Finger Exercises

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.

Hand Exercises

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

Exercises using a Broomstick

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!


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

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!