Unlike the heart in the blood circulatory system, the lymphatic system does not have an active pump to propel lymphatic fluid back to the bloodstream. Effective lymph flow depends on sufficient muscle and joint activity, especially if the functionality of the lymphatic system is compromised. Decongestive exercises are most effective if performed while the patient wears compression garments or bandages, which are also essential components in lymphedema management. Ideally, decongestive exercise protocols are performed two to three times daily for about 10-15 minutes, and the patient should rest with the affected limb elevated for at least 10 minutes following the exercises.
These active, non-resistive and repetitive exercise protocols should be customized by the lymphedema therapist and/or physician to mmet individual goals for patients affected by lymphedema. The stage and type of lymphedema, specific restrictions and limitations of joint and muscle activity, as well as additional medical conditions need to be considered.
The downward and upward movement of the diaphragm in deep abdominal breathing is an essential component for the sufficient return of lymphatic fluid back to the bloodstream. Patients affected by lymphedema of the leg benefit greatly from an exercise program including diaphragmatic breathing exercises. The movement of the diaphragm, combined with the outward and inward movements of the abdomen, ribcage, and lower back, also promotes general well-being, peristalsis and return of venous blood back to the heart.
Following are sample decongestive exercise protocols, combined with breathing exercises for the upper and lower extremity, which are published in the book Lymphedema Management. This book also contains self-MLD and self-bandaging protocols for patients affected by lymphedema. The exercise protocols below serve as guidelines and the movements outlined must not cause discomfort, pain, or soreness.
Before you engage in any exercise program, especially if you have additional medical conditions, please make sure to get your physicians approval.
I would like to wish all of my readers a Happy and Healthy 2011!
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Abdominal Breathing (3 repetitions)
Place both hands on your belly
Inhale deeply through your nose into your belly (feel how you breathe against your hands)
Exhale through your mouth
Perform breathing exercises as often as possible during the day