Reducing the Risks of Lymphedema

Risk reduction cover image - EnglishRisk reduction

These risk-reduction guidelines have been suggested by experts in the field of lymphedema based on physiological principals, observation and in some cases, limited scientific studies. Sometimes lymphedema develops despite preventive efforts. Everyone has an individual anatomy, and a unique health history. Experts suggest maintaining a healthy active lifestyle, and keeping in mind the reasonable precautions and actions listed here. To download our brochure, ‘Reducing the Risk of Lymphedema’, click on the image.

Exercise and deep breathing

Exercise is important for all-around good health. Different types of exercise help build strength, maintain joint mobility, promote healthy body weight, increase fitness and prevent injury. Exercise also helps increase lymphatic flow and promote alternate lymphatic pathways.

Exercise tips:
  • Swimming and water exercises, walking, gentle cycling, dance, yoga, tai chi, qigong and light aerobics are all beneficial activities.
  • For those starting any new physical activity, proceed slowly and at your own pace.
  •  Strength training exercises can rebuild or regain strength, increase stamina, build muscle tone and muscle power.  For people already involved in an exercise program (e.g. weight lifting and vigorous activities), you may return progressively to your exercise program as determined by your physician and/or therapist.
  • For people not physically active, you may undertake a progressive exercise program that includes strengthening or weight lifting with the approval of your physician and/or therapist, usually three months after the end of cancer treatments. All gentle exercises, especially aerobic, are recommended during and after cancer treatments.
  • Resistance exercises should progress gradually with low weights and low repetitions under the guidance of a professional instructor.
  • Even though studies have shown the benefits of exercise, everyone is different. Listen to your body and rest when necessary. Measure your limb once a month or before starting any new exercise activity. 

Be more active

A small number of exercise and educational programs for reducing the risk of developing lymphedema have been studied and show that exercises and active lifestyle are beneficial.  For proper guidance, please consult a certified lymphedema therapist. For recommended exercise programs and classes click here.

For proper guidance, please consult our Resource Guide to find a certified lymphedema therapist in your area.

Body weight

Studies have shown that being overweight is a risk factor for developing lymphedema. Try to eat a balanced diet and maintain an average body weight.

Skin care

  • Careful attention to your skin is essential to reduce the risk of infection (cellulitis).  Cleanse gently with mild soap. Dry thoroughly and apply a non-allergenic moisturizer to prevent chapping and chafing.
  • Be vigilant about cuts, scratches, splinters and pinpricks. Use electric razors to avoid nicks and skin irritation.
  •  If a cut or scratch does occur, clean the wound with soap, apply disinfectant, and, if indicated, an antibiotic ointment. Watch for signs of infection. If they appear, consult a doctor immediately.
  • Protect your skin with high protection sunscreen to avoid sunburn, and insect repellent to avoid bites.

For arm lymphedema

  • Protect your hands and nails.  Do not cut cuticles.
  • Inform your manicurist that you are at risk for lymphedema and that equipment must be properly sanitized.
  • Consider wearing medical gloves to prepare food, rubber gloves for household chores, and gardening gloves for outdoor tasks.

For leg lymphedema

  • Protect your feet and nails.  Do not cut cuticles.
  • Inform your pedicurist that you are at risk for lymphedema and that equipment must be properly sanitized.
  • Avoid walking barefoot, and wear closed, well-fitting shoes and comfortable hosiery.

Avoid constriction

  • Be aware of pressure and constriction in the affected area.
  • Avoid having blood pressure taken on the affected limb.
  • Do not wear shoulder purses or backpack straps that constrict.
  • Wear a well-fitted bra with soft shoulder straps and evenly distributed support; avoid underwires.
  • Avoid tight elastic bands on socks, stockings and undergarments.
  • Avoid tightly-fitted cuffs, sleeves, rings, bracelets and wrist watches.

Medical Procedures

If possible avoid needle sticks, injections, blood tests and vaccination on the affected sideWhenever possible, infusion lines and port-a-cath should be on the non-affected side. Consider wearing a “Lymphedema Alert Bracelet”Learn more about the importance of wearing a Lymphedema Alert Bracelet if you have lymphedema or if you have had cancer treatment or surgery and are at risk of developing lymphedema

Heat and cold

Avoid prolonged exposure to high heat such as hot tubs and saunas.

Air Travel

When traveling by air, those with lymphedema should wear a compression garment in order to prevent or contain swelling caused by low atmospheric pressure.

  • Consult a qualified therapist before flying.
  • Move at-risk limbs during flights to keep lymph flowing.
  • Drink sufficient water before and during flights to avoid dehydration.

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