Best exercises to help relieve lymphedema


Have you had lymphedema – swelling and fluid build-up – because of breast cancer or its treatments, or after your lymph nodes were removed? A few simple movements can help.

Your mother’s generation may not have known that. Experts warned against exercising the upper body after breast surgery. But now they know that exercise is more likely to help curb breast cancer-related lymphedema than to make it worse.

Why? “Exercise stimulates the lymphatic system,” says Todd Lane, occupational therapist and certified lymphedema therapist at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. “An exercise routine can restore normal range of motion and help build strength and endurance.”

Ask your oncologist for a referral to a certified lymphedema therapist who can establish a personalized exercise routine based on your diagnosis and symptoms.

And try these seven exercises Lane suggests. Start slowly and do more repetitions as you get stronger.

1. Sit in a chair with your feet together and your hands on your knees.

2. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and, keeping your elbows slightly bent, slowly lift your arms above your head.

3. With hands clasped and arms above your head, gently bend down at waist level, leaning to the right.

4. Hold for 10 seconds.

5. Return to an upright sitting position, then lean to the left.

6. Repeat 10 times on each side.

1. Stand facing a wall with your toes about 6 inches from the wall.

2. Place both palms against the wall at chest height and slowly “row” your fingers along the wall, reaching as high as possible. Keep your head straight, eyes facing forward, and back straight.

3. Bring your fingers along the wall to the starting position.

4. Repeat 10 times.

5. With each workout, aim to reach higher than the last time.

1. Stand with your affected side parallel to the wall with 2 feet of space between the outside edge of your foot and the wall.

2. With your arm bent at the elbow and biceps parallel to the floor, place your palm flat on the wall with your fingers pointing towards the ceiling.

3. Slowly “crawl” your fingers along the wall, reaching as high as possible. Keep your head straight, eyes looking forward, hips square, and back straight.

4. Bring your fingers back to the starting position.

5. Repeat 10 times. (If both sides are affected, repeat on the other side.)

6. With each workout, aim to reach higher than the last time.

1. Lie on your back on the floor, arms at your sides, palms up.

2. Without raising your arms, slide your arms towards your head (like making a snow angel). Expect to feel a slight stretch but no pain.

3. Try to touch your hands above your head. Hold for 3 seconds.

4. Slide your arms back to the starting position.

5. Repeat 10 times.

6. With each workout, aim to reach higher than the last time. As you build strength and improve your range of motion, consider adding light weights.

1. Stand with arms bent at elbows, biceps parallel to the floor, and palms facing each other.

2. Slowly extend your arms, squeezing your shoulder blades and pushing your fingers toward the ceiling.

3. Try to extend your arms as fully as possible.

4. Return to the starting position.

5. Repeat 10 times.

6. With each workout, aim to reach higher than the last time. As you build strength and improve your range of motion, consider adding light weights.

1. As on the back, knees bent, feet shoulder-width apart, and arms extended out to sides, palms up.

2. Keeping your arms straight, slowly raise both arms towards the ceiling, bringing your palms together.

3. Slowly lower your arms to the starting position.

4. Repeat 10 times.

5. As you build strength and improve your range of motion, consider adding light weights.

1. Hold a walking stick in each hand, step forward with your right foot and extend your left arm forward until your hand reaches the waist. The pole in your left hand should touch the ground at the same time as your right foot.

2. Repeat on the other side.

3. Keep your back straight and continue walking alternating feet and poles.

4. Start with a 10-minute walk and work your way up to 30-minute workouts.



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