Exercising with Lymphoedema

A photo of a woman exercising

What is lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema occurs when your lymphatic flow is affected. This often happens during treatment for cancer. It’s a long-term condition which causes swelling, usually in your arms or legs.

Treatment for lymphoedema

There are various therapies and self-help techniques that can help you manage your lymphoedema on a day to day basis. Please refer to your local NHS Lymphoedema Service or Lymphoedema Practitioner to help guide you.

Kate from My Simple Steps

In this article, Kate guides you through easy to follow exercises and movements which you can do at home daily.

Our system loves movement, it’s good for the brain and the body. I qualified as a Cancer Rehabilitation Exercise specialist 10 years ago and since then have qualified in support therapies in lymphoedema. Little did I know that I would be diagnosed with breast cancer. With my background in rehabilitation exercise, I was more prepared than most for the subsequent treatments and side effects of those treatments.

With my training, I knew that post surgery was a vital time for me to help my body. The treatments all affected my lymphatic flow. Fortunately, I have a network of professional therapists I could turn to. I know that not everybody has this luxury, so I wanted to put a video together for people who didn’t have easy access to support.

I have a mantra which helps me work with my body.

  • Listen – when my arm started feeling heavy and my chest swelling didn’t go down overnight, I knew I had to act.
  • Learn – what could I do to support my body? I called on my experience but also brought in the expertise of a lymphatic specialist physiotherapist, my friend Justine Waloch.
  • Live – we put together a support package that suited my lifestyle, things that worked for me and my body. Movement being the easiest thing for me.
  • Love – my body has changed forever, but I still have movement and that to me is precious, so I’m grateful for that.

The support helped me not only physically, but mentally. Movement is the foundation of a healthy body; find what you love to do. My current fatigue levels vary wildly, so some days I may do fun Zumba sessions, others more chilled out Tai Chi, and there are even days where only deep breathing work is achievable.

I use a range of methods to support my mild lymphoedema. My compression sleeve and glove for days I know I can’t move as much, because of fatigue, kinesio tape for my chest swelling, self-massage techniques, body brushing (when I remember), deep breathing morning and night and finally massage from my lovely husband (two minutes max, as he gets bored!). It sometimes felt as if I could spend all day working on my lymphoedema, but I fit it into my day-to-day life and then it doesn’t feel like such a chore.

I’ve put together these videos to get you started on some gentle exercises and movement. One video has vocal instructions, and the other is just with music.

As with all exercise, listen to your body and only do the movements you are capable of. These exercises are equally effective seated as standing.

The support around the country, as we know by the amazing work Lymphoedema Support Network has done on their research, is patchy at best. But there are other paths you can go down if you can’t access the NHS system. Physiotherapists specialising in lymphoedema, manual Lymphatic therapists, Reflexology Lymphatic therapists and Cancer Rehabilitation Exercise specialists.

You can also check out my YouTube channel for more videos.