Self-care for lymphoedema

Self-care is an important aspect of lymphoedema prevention and management. Know the signs and symptoms of lymphoedema. If you notice changes in the affected part of your body, talk to your doctor. There are many steps you can take to reduce the risk of developing lymphoedema or to stop it progressing.

Learn more about:

Caring for your skin

  • Keep your skin healthy and unbroken to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Use a pH neutral soap when washing your skin, avoid scented products and moisturise daily to prevent dry, irritated skin. Dry skin is more prone to tearing and breaking.
  • Don’t pick or bite your nails, and don’t cut your cuticles with scissors. Use cuticle moisturiser to help avoid your cuticles splitting.
  • Always wear gloves and shoes for gardening, housework and outdoor work to protect your skin.
  • Take care to protect your skin from cuts or burns when cooking.
  • Protect your skin from the sun with clothing, a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
  • Apply insect repellent to prevent insect bites, which can swell and become infected.
  • Avoid scratches from pets and thorns; take care when shaving to avoid cuts; and protect your fingers from needle pricks when sewing.
  • If you damage your skin, treat it promptly – clean the wound and cover it with a clean dressing.
  • Talk to your doctor about how to best manage any eczema, dermatitis or other skin conditions in the affected area.
  • Avoid tinea by washing and drying well between the toes. If tinea is present, use antifungal treatments for several weeks.
  • Seek medical help urgently if you think you may have an infection.

Exercise/daily activities

  • Maintain a healthy body weight. If overweight, talk to your doctor about how to achieve a healthy weight range.
  • Do regular exercise to help the lymph flow. Find something you enjoy – this may be swimming, yoga, bike riding, aquarobics, walking, running, or attending the gym.
  • If lifting weights, increase the weight and intensity gradually. Be guided by how your limb responds.
  • Use the affected limb normally to improve the lymph flow.
  • For lower limb lymphoedema, avoid standing for long periods or crossing your legs. If your job requires you to be seated, try to move around and change position frequently.
  • For upper limb lymphoedema, avoid carrying heavy objects with the affected arm/hand if you are not used to doing so. Continue your usual lifting, such as washing or shopping, but avoid one-off heavy lifting, such as moving heavy boxes or furniture, as it may worsen your symptoms.
  • If you have lymphoedema in your arm, the unaffected arm is preferred for blood pressure monitoring, injections and blood taking.
  • Avoid wearing jewellery or clothing that constricts the affected area or leaves marks in your skin.
  • Avoid extremes of temperature, either hot or cold. Swelling may be worse in summer due to the heat: stay indoors during the hottest part of the day and drink plenty of water.

Compression garments

  • Only wear a garment if recommended by your doctor or lymphoedema practitioner.
  • Ensure any garment you wear is fitted by a trained lymphoedema practitioner.
  • Your lymphoedema practitioner will show you how to put on and take off the garment. They may also talk to you about aids you can use if you find it difficult getting your garments on or off.
  • If you are at risk of developing lymphoedema, talk to your doctor or lymphoedema practitioner about wearing a compression sleeve during air travel. Long periods of physical inactivity with reduced cabin pressure may increase the strain on the lymphatic system.
  • See the treatment section for more information about compression garments.

This information was last reviewed in June 2017
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