Lymphedema and Swimming

karen-lymph-book-2018

Karen holding her book, Lymphedema: Sentenced to Life in Bed, but I Escaped.

Swimming to reduce leg lymphedema….

For years I’ve been telling people with Leg Lymphedema that the best exercise to reduce the swelling is swimming. Why? There are a few reasons swimming is the best exercise.

One, because you are horizontal when swimming rather than vertical and your leg below your torso. This is similar to when you are lying down or elevating your leg to reduce the swelling.

Two, when swimming your bodily fluids are circulating. The movement of the limbs and muscles are creating a force to move the fluids throughout your body. The movement of kicking while swimming is helping to push the fluids out of your leg. Your blood and lymphatic fluid are being moved more rapidly when swimming rather than sitting or lying down.

Three, the water itself offers a gentle compression when in a pool. It is more gentle than a compression stocking, but it is still helpful for when you stand in the pool in between swimming. Swimming is great, but even standing and moving your leg through the water is helpful.

And four, swimming is non-impact. That means, your foot is not striking the floor with each step as it is with walking or running. Walking and running actually cause leg lymphedema to become worse because of all of the pounding/impact and gravity. Yes, they help circulation a little, but the impact causes the fluids to be packed down into the leg rather than pushing the fluids out of the leg. Your body is vertical and the fluids run down. Swimming is very gentle and effective for those of us with leg lymphedema compared to any other aerobic exercise.

I’ve been dealing with leg lymphedema since my 1991 cancer surgery. At the time, I already had a physical therapy degree, was a fitness trainer, and a gymnastics coach. I knew how the body functioned.

I had malignant melanoma in my right thigh. I was told that I would be bed-ridden for the rest of my life by many doctors after cancer surgery. The surgery was the only way to save my life. That was if it wasn’t already too late. The doctor was not sure if the cancer had already spread to my lymph nodes and throughout my body. If it had, it would have been too late. Going into the surgery I did not know whether I had weeks to live or a lifetime of being in bed.

The doctors removed the malignant tumor and the lymph nodes from my groin area during the surgery. It was two surgeries combined that lasted many hours. Immediately after the surgery, my leg was as wide as my waist. I had a tree trunk and a long way to go to reduce it to normal size. My life was saved, but my leg and life were forever changed. It took nearly one year to reduce my leg to almost normal size. I have maintained my leg lymphedema extremely well because I am so disciplined.

A few quick tips for reducing the swelling… elevate, compression, circulation/light exercise, and a very healthy diet of various fruits and vegetables – that’s the secret to reducing the swelling and keeping it down. Eat foods such as fruits and vegetables. Stay away from processed foods, fast-foods, junk foods, alcohol, soda, and other unhealthy foods.

I studied physical therapy in college and have been a CSCS for many years. I know how to maintain health and recover from illness and injury. I admit, my knowledge has made it easier for me to maintain my leg lymphedema, but you can do it too.

What prompted me to write this today? I go all winter long wishing I had access to a pool so I can maintain my lymphedema better. This week the pool opened and I paid for my pool pass. I’ll be able to keep my leg looking and feeling good, hardly any swelling on non-working days. YAY!!!

I swam for the first time this summer yesterday and my leg felt and looked great afterward. Elevating today and it feels good. Can’t wait to go to my ballroom dance social later this evening!me-swimsuit-xs

Anyone in NJ with leg lymphedema that wants to talk, meet for a quick swim, or needs a little bit of help just reach out to me. My schedule is very sporadic and constantly changing, but we will connect if you reach out.

Read about my journey with cancer surgery and lymphedema here, www.lymphedemabook.com

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