Lymphoedema

Lymphoedema is a swelling that develops because of a build-up of fluid called lymph in the body’s tissues.  Lymphoedema usually affects an arm or leg, but can also affect other parts of the body.  If you have had lymph nodes removed by surgery, damaged by radiotherapy, or they are obstructed by a cancer, you are at risk of developing lymphoedema.

It’s difficult to determine the risk of developing lymphoedema because;

  • There is no standard test for diagnosing lymphoedema.
  • The disruption of lymph flow affects people differently.
  • Lymphoedema can develop soon after surgery, or many years later.

What is important is that the necessary precautions taken to help prevent, identify and manage this condition are life-long.

Is exercise good for the lymphatic system?

Yes! An increase in blood flow means an increase in lymph absorption. Exercise can increase the uptake of fluid by the initial lymphatics and enhance the pumping of the collecting lymphatics.  In addition, exercise mobilises the joints, strengthens the muscles of the affected limb/limbs/trunk quadrant, thereby decreasing the risk of strain or sprain.  Regular physical activity can also help you to maintain an ideal body weight and composition, which can help to reduce your risk of developing lymphoedema or potentially improve the symptoms for those with existing lymphoedema.

If your lymphatic system has been interrupted, a slow and gradual progression is strongly recommended.  The lymph system is different now and changes to lymph capacity and lymph flow must be taken into consideration. When your cancer treatment is complete, stretching is very important at the beginning to ease tightness and scarring that can block lymph flow.  This helps the body to develop new pathways to drain the lymph fluid, without creating more damage.  The importance of deep abdominal breathing should not be overlooked either, as this enhances the pumping and draining of lymphatic fluid.

Activities of daily living are often hard and repetitive by nature, so the body needs to be strong enough to cope with such demands.  If exercise is carried out properly, progressed gradually and within your level of comfort, there are no limits to your fitness goals!

For more information on Lymphoedema – please go to the Macmillan website.