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3 Exercises for Arm Lymphedema

Posted by Nima Rafizadeh on

For breast cancer survivors, lymphedema in the arm is often an unfortunate side effect of surgery, whether or not the lymphatic system was removed. The buildup of fluid that results can cause arm swelling, which can be uncomfortable and unsightly. The idea of exercise for arm lymphedema is that muscle contractions can help trapped lymph to move again and reduce the swelling.  

Try These Exercises for Arm Lymphedema

Talk to your doctor before you begin any exercise plan or extra physical activity. Also, be sure your drains and sutures are out following surgery before you try any sort of exercise. 


It's important to remember that you’re not out to set any world records here. These lymphedema exercises aren't about fitness, but to gradually increase fluid flow through your lymph vessels. Start slowly, do them gently and stop immediately if you feel any pain or discomfort.


  1. Get Ready - You should do the following to prepare for your exercise program. 
    1. Dress comfortably in loose-fitting clothing
    2. You’ll need a set of two 1 lb free weights, a light rubber or ‘stress’ ball that’s larger than your palm and a hard chair    
    3. Wear a compression sleeve on the arm you’re exercising
    4. Exercise in a space large enough to lie down
    5. Warm your arm for 20 minutes in the shower, tub or with a warm compress. 
  2. Start With the Ball Squeeze - This exercise helps you gradually get into your routine. Sit or stand in a good posture with a straight neck and back and shoulders relaxed. Hold the ball in your palm with your hand extended in front of you and elevated above your heart. Squeeze the ball as tightly as you can comfortably and hold it for three seconds, then release. Repeat the exercise five to seven times. If your arm feels tired, just stop. You’ll slowly build up strength in the arm over time. Repeat the exercise with your other arm.

  3. Elbow Flex - Use a good posture in a seated or standing position, with your elbows by your side and hands extended in front of you or in your lap, with a 1 lb weight in each one. Lift the weights towards your chest. Stop halfway and hold the position for six seconds. Slowly lower your arms back down and take a few breaths. Repeat this exercise 10 times.

  4. Elbow Extension - Lie on your back on the floor with your back and neck straight, keep your knees raised and apart for balance. Your feet should be flat on the floor and apart for balance. Hold a weight in each hand by your side with the hand facing into your body. Raise both arms straight up above your body. Bend your elbows slowly so your hands drop towards your chest. When your elbows are at 90 degrees, stop lowering your hands and hold the position for six seconds. Raise your arms up again and rest. Repeat the exercise 10 times.

Always remember to wear your compression sleeve(s). Compression wear, including anti-cellulite leggings can be effective in relieving symptoms of lymphedema.  


If you enjoyed this post, check out our recent article about using compression wear for lymphedema.

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