Patients suffering from lymphedema can benefit from exercise. In one study that involves 141 breast cancer survivors with stable lymphedema, it showed that those who participated in a progressive weight training program have a lower incidence of lymphedema flare-ups compared to those who didn't participate in any form of exercise.  

Effects of Exercise on Lymphedema

Although further studies are needed to determine whether weight-training or other forms of exercise can reduce the risk of lymphedema and flare-ups, experts believe that physical activity has a role to play in improving one's lymphedema.  

Exercise makes the muscles into a pump that pushes the protein-rich lymph into areas where it should go. The contraction and relaxation of muscles during a physical activity massages the lymph vessels and move the extra lymph out there.  

Exercises for Lymphedema

There are some forms of exercise that are highly recommended for lymphedema sufferers. These include: 

  1. 1. Lymphedema remedial exercise 
    Lymphedema remedial exercises are done as part of treatment for lymphedema. These involve active, repetitive, non-resistive motion of the affected body part/s.  
    When done correctly and with the use of compression garments, this type of exercise can improve the efficacy of the muscles in pumping and promoting venous and lymphatic return.  

  1. 2. Stretching exercises 
    Flexibility or stretching exercises include a wide range of activities that stretch the muscles and connective tissues. This type of exercise can help in increasing and/or preserving one's range of motion.  
    Although these exercises are not a treatment for lymphedema, they can contribute to one's recovery as they help in reducing the occurrence of lymphedema-related complications.  

  2. Yoga is a good example of stretching/flexibility exercise. Aside from minimizing joint contractures, it also has mental and emotional benefits. Jen of Jen Reviews wrote some of the yoga benefits here.

  1. 3. Resistance training 
    Resistance or weight-lifting exercises involve the use of body weight or lifting of objects such as dumbbells and weight machines.  
    Studies have shown that this type of exercise doesn't worsen one's lymphedema. However, these must be done with caution, starting with low weights and low repetition.  

If safety guidelines are observed, these exercises can benefit those who have lymphedema and those who are at risk of developing it.  

Lymphedema sufferers who are completely new to fitness training should seek the help of a trainer with experience in helping those with lymphedema. 

Image: distelfliege via Flickr 

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