If you suffer from excess fluid retention in your legs, home exercises can greatly reduce the development of lymphedema. As a Naturopath and a Certified Lymphatic Drainage Therapist – I work with patients every day who aren’t able to follow common at home treatments such as dry skin brushing or rebounding to help drain their lymphatic systems. Luckily there are other methods that show excellent results, including easy exercises. Here I share easy to perform DIY lymphedema and swelling reduction leg exercises to help prevent and reduce swelling in your legs.
Why Use Lymphatic Drainage Exercises?
Lymphatic drainage exercises are great for those who might be immobilized from surgery or extreme lymphedema. If you are dealing with any type of swelling or fluid retention of the lower extremities in your feet, ankles, and legs lymphatic drainage exercises are ideal when dry brushing or rebounding aren’t options. The beauty of these DIY exercises is that you can alter them to suit your level of ability, so you can feel comfortable doing them.
What Is Dry Brushing And Rebounding?
Dry brushing has been around for centuries. It is an Ayurvedic practice, using a brush to remove dead skin and help it become more efficient at eliminating toxins through the pores. It offers many health benefits including: (1)
- Lymphatic system stimulation
- Skin exfoliation to help clear pores
- Removing toxins from the body
- Improving circulation and energy
You can perform dry brushing to help improve lymph drainage, but not everyone is physically able to do so.
Rebounding produces vertical motion through jumping exercises on a trampoline. This up and down motion helps lymph fluid move properly. Because you have major lymph vessels in your legs, the vertical up-and-down movement helps pump the lymph. This requires vigorous movement that is not recommended following surgical procedures. (2)
DIY Lymphatic Drainage Exercises For Swollen Legs
You can choose to do all of these exercises, alter them to suit your ability, or choose the ones you find easiest to perform. I like to do anywhere from a minute to five minutes of each of these exercises, depending on the degree of your lymphedema and swelling:
Lymphatic Drain DIY: Elevated Legs
The first exercise is ideal if you can get your legs up against the wall or your headboard. Follow these steps:
- Lay back on the bed with your head pointed toward the foot of the bed and your legs up on the wall or headboard.
- Keep your legs in this position for at least a minute and up to five minutes.
- This exercise is great for any type of swelling in your legs including swelling due to pregnancy.
Lymphatic Drain DIY: Elevated Ankle Pumps
Ankle pumps are performed in the same position with your legs against the wall. In this case you pump your ankles up and down, and in and out. Getting your legs elevated is essential to improve lymphatic flow.
Lymphatic Drain DIY: Elevated Ankle Twists
If you can’t manage elevated ankle pumps or elevating your legs, ankle twist exercises should be better. This altered ankle pump is done lying on the bed:
- Lie down on your back
- Pump your feet pointing your toes down towards the bed and up towards the ceiling, up and down
- Twist your feet out towards the wall and in towards each other, in and out
These actions get the lymph moving out of your legs, toes and ankles. If your legs are quite swollen, you can prop your feet up on a few pillows to get elevation. Prop your feet and perform the same actions moving your feet in and out and up and down.
Lymphatic Drain DIY: Leg Pumps
Leg pumps are like ankle pumps, but much faster. These pumps are done while lying down, so can be done by anyone, as long as you don’t have nerve damage, paralysis or immobility:
- Lie down on your back
- Point your toes up directly at the ceiling as best you can
- Move your legs in and out in and out, in and out very fast
The movement should be from the hips, not just your feet. This provides the same lymphatic action we get when we’re rebounding but can be done while in bed. If you can’t move your legs quickly, don’t worry. Even slow movements maintained for up to five minutes can move the lymph up your legs.
Lymphatic Drain DIY: Seated Ankle Pumps
Toe pumps are done in a seated position on the bed:
- Sit on the bed or floor with your legs parallel in front of you
- Pump your toes up and down as fast as you can for 1 to 5 minutes
Why is pumping fast important? The faster motion helps get the movement you need to help move the lymph. But again, movement at any speed is still going to help as it improves activity to improve lymph flow. The slower you go, the longer you should continue pumping. So, if you are moving slower, try to keep pumping consistently for five minutes if possible.
Lymphatic Drain DIY Tip: Keep Hydrated
Always drink plenty of fluids such as water, ginger tea, and coconut water. Coconut water is great because it is the best isotonic fluid enhancer. Isotonic fluids help with improving movement of fluid in your body to support healthy lymph movement. The more fluid you have in your body, the more fluid your lymphatic flow becomes. A dehydrated system and body cause lymphatic fluid to become more congested. (3)
The lymph fluid itself is comprised of a ton of tiny, bonded proteins. When they’re dehydrated, they get stickier which makes them harder to move. So make sure you’re well hydrated, not just while you do your pumping exercises but throughout the whole day.
Lymphatic Drain DIY Tip: Improved Diet
Along with these exercises you should also focus on improving your diet. I always recommend high protein, low sodium meals for my patients to help maintain proper lymphatic flow. You should also minimize sugar intake and eliminate gluten completely.
I recommend you do these exercises at least twice a day. It doesn’t take much time, and any movement in your legs, feet and ankles will help facilitate lymph drainage. If you can manage it, three times is ideal in the morning, at lunchtime and before bed. All of these tips will reduce risk for lymphedema and swelling in the legs.