Although exercise is crucial for every human being and especially so for those suffering from Lymphoedema, as a bilateral lower limb Lymphie, I have written this article to hopefully help other leg LE sufferers, based on my own experience as a patient and partly my Sports Therapy training and experience as a former Athlete.
I obtained a large reduction in the size of my legs and improvement in the Lymph flow simply by incorporating daily cycling into my lifestyle and I would strongly recommend this activity to anyone who has LE in one or both legs.
I always used to cycle avidly before my cancer treatment. But or a couple of years following my surgery I had to learn to walk properly again and then it took a few more years until I was rehabilitated enough to be able to sit on a bike. Now I can only ride a certain type of bike and it has to be adapted. It was a long and painful road but totally worth it when I began to see the benefits that cycling had on my LE.
So, let’s explore why cycling is so beneficial in leg Lymphoedema:
To begin with, cycling is a non-impact form of exercise. This means that there is minimal pressure placed on the body – which can in itself be beneficial to LE sufferers – while preventing further injury or aggravating existing conditions. Another non-impact exercise that is great for LE sufferers, especially those with LE of the arm, is swimming. Trampolining or Rebounding is another very helpful type of exercise for use in the control of LE on any area of the body, given its low-impact nature. But in the case of LE of the leg, I believe cycling to be the very best form of exercise to manage the condition.
The motion of cycling is that we squeeze or press the pedal ( called pedal stroke ) and simultaneously raise the leg at an angle in rapid movement (as long as the effort is being put in!). In this movement, the contraction of the Gastrocnemius and Soleus calf muscles results in a ‘pumping mechanism’ that stimulates and aids lymphatic flow. This helps to get the lymph flow going from the feet upwards, especially helpful for those puffy toes and swollen ankles.
Then there is the action of the Hamstrings and Quadriceps, which helps to pump the lymph flow up to the pelvic area. With repeated use, some lower-limb LE patients can even see some muscle definition and improved leg shape using a good, frequent cycling technique.
However, some points to consider:
The improvement effects obviously vary from person to person, depending on factors such as how much lymph flow the leg of the individual patient has to begin with. It should also be noted that in order to see a significant improvement in limb size and reduction of excess fluid, cycling has to be consistent and frequent. There is not much use in driving everywhere and then, say, going on a leisurely bike ride once a week!
For best results, you have to incorporate the cycling as your daily mode of transport, as much as possible. This is what I do – I don’t drive and I am not driven anywhere if I can possibly help it. I even cycled as much as possible there and back to the cancer hospital and hospice for my treatment in the middle of the UK winters and in a lot of pain from the effects of my surgery! You have to be dedicated and consistent to see meaningful results. Sure enough, if I miss a few days on my bike for any reason, the swelling will begin to return as before.
A word on cycling safety: As is usual for leg lymphies, we often have impairment of feeling in the limb or foot. When I walk, I have distinct loss/ difference of feeling in one foot in particular, but hardly at all when cycling. However, due to such impairments, it is crucial especially when cycling, that we stay safe and keep off the roads.
Be persistent! Be consistent! Put the effort in! Your Lymph System and your legs will thank you for it!