Using the affected area
Swelling may restrict movements of your arm or leg. Try to use your limb as normally as possible because this activity will help lymph drainage.
Your lymphoedema therapist may suggest some simple exercises designed to reduce particularly stubborn swelling. If you have limited movement of a joint or limb, the physiotherapist may be able to help you.
You will be given advice about specific everyday activities. If you have difficulties reaching the floor or holding a pen or cutlery, for example, the occupational therapist may be able to help you. If your arm is affected try to avoid any sudden, strenuous movements, such as pushing, pulling or lifting heavy objects. You may strain your muscles, which can make the swelling worse. Try not to swing your arm when you're walking because this can make your hand swell. Put your hand in a pocket or hold on to the strap of a shoulder bag (carried on your unaffected side) instead.
Gentle movement of your arm alternating with a period of rest is best. If you are using a sling you may be tempted to leave your arm in that one position. Lymph can pool at the elbow and cause stiffness of the joint. When you are relaxing rest your arm outstretched on a cushion at the level of your heart. This will limit the formation of lymph.
If your leg is swollen, try to avoid standing still for long periods or sitting with your feet on the floor. Rest your leg outstretched on a chair, or stool, supported by pillows. Your foot should be level with your bottom and the back of your knee supported. This will limit the formation of lymph.
Exercise is generally good for a swollen limb and trunk, as long as it's an activity you're used to. For example, you may already take part in aerobics, tennis or cycling. Walking helps increase the flow of lymph. If you plan to take up a new sport or form of exercise, please ask your lymphoedema therapist for advice.
Too much activity, particularly if you start suddenly, can cause your swelling to increase. This is because blood flow is increased and more lymph is produced. If you've been fitted with compression hosiery, you should always wear it when exercising.
Swimming is a good all round exercise. It allows ease of movement because the water supports swollen limbs when you're not wearing your hosiery. If you can't swim, water aerobics is a good alternative. You should shower afterwards to reduce the risk of infection. Apply extra moisturiser as chlorine or salt causes drying of the skin.
Rest is as important as exercise. Remember to support your limb in the correct position when you're relaxing.
Eating and talking
You may have difficulty eating, talking or keeping your mouth clean if part of your face or neck is swollen. Ask your lymphoedema therapist to refer you to a dietician, speech and language therapist or oral hygienist, all of whom may be able to help. A physiotherapist may be able to provide advice about exercises if you have stiffness of your face or neck muscles.
If you find your appearance distressing, you may find it helps to discuss this with your lymphoedema therapist, who may be able to refer you for counselling.
There is no reason why you shouldn't continue with sexual activity if you wish, even if your genital area is swollen. Sexual activity increases the blood supply to the genitals and this may cause an increase in swelling. Men who have genital swelling may have difficulty getting an erection, and also with penetration.
Advice and support is available if necessary. Personal hygiene is important to reduce the risk of infection so pay special attention to the care of this area if swelling is present. You may find you lose any desire to have sex. This isn't unusual during a period of illness or anxiety.
If you have particular concerns you wish to discuss, speak to your lymphoedema therapist. There are experts who can help you, if necessary.