Saturday, February 11, 2012

Exercises to help lymphedema

Whether you have arm lymphedema or leg lymphedema, exercise is still critical to your overall health and a vital part in successfully managing lymphedema.

One thing that really bothers me is when I hear of people with lymphedema who give up on any activity of exercise because they have this condition. You have to want more from life than just being a couch potato, exercising only your thumb as you click that TV remote.
I envision life like a football game. The doctor may say you can only go to the 10 yard line. But, you must with all endeavor try for that goal. Even if you only really the 50 yard line, you know that you gave it your best shot!
To stay as healthy as you can, exercise is absolutely necessary, this is true for lymphedema people and non-lymphedema people. The body simply was not designed to sit on that back side for decades. I am a very strong proponent of doing as much as you can despite lymphedema. The key is to understand what type and how much exercise you can undertake.
Remember also, the lymphatic system does not have its own pump, like the heart. It moves through action, exercise and activity. Getting on and keeping an exercise activity will help increase that lymph flow.
I am not going to include the usual list of “exercises to avoid list, because, honestly, what exercise you are able to participate in depends on the stage of your lymphedema, other medical conditions, and the advice of your doctor and therapist.
My favorite exercise is swimming. The gentle pressure of the water against the limb acts in many ways like the natural movements of our body that activates the lymphatics. In early stages of lymphedema, swimming can actually decrease the size of your lymphedema limb.
Cautions and Considerations
Remember, there are only three factors that will affect what type of exercise you will be able to do withlymphedema.
1. Accompanying medical conditions. These include, but are not limited to heart problems, diabetes, pulmonary conditions. You must check with your physician.
2. Stage and type of lymphedema. Obviously those with arm lymphedema would have a problem with bowling. But those with leg lymphedema and no arm lymphedema or involvement shouldn't. Stage 1 & stage 2 lymphedema would present no problem with hiking and walking. At stage 3, it is more difficult. So take the type and stage of your lymphedema into consideration.
3. Risk of injury is also a factor. At any stage you should consider the consequences of broken bones, torn ligaments and sprained muscles. These can be a serious complication with lymphedema.

Other points to remember

1. Work with your therapist and physician to design an exercise program that is both safe and effective for you.
2. Your should always wear the appropriate lymphedema garment when undertaking any exercise.
3. Swimming - Hot tubs, pools (especially community pools) and lakes during the summer (in warmer climates any time of the year) present an increased risk for all types of infections because of bacteria. I urge caution there.

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