After being diagnosed with Lymphedema (LE) I really believed that what I was dealing with was cosmetic, my fault, and as long as I didn’t pound my leg and wore the ugly knee high everything would be okay.
Luckily, I was a swimmer who did both swim team and synchronized swimming. I was diagnosed with LE at the end of May and started swim team and synchro again the 1st of June. My leg quickly returned to normal, and I wore the ugly knee high, some. Most of the time, once the swelling was down, I didn’t have much swelling. I believe that one summer, and my love of swimming and being a swimmer in high school (spending 3-5 hours a day, 5 days a week, in the pool in girls swim season and 2 hours in the pool 5 days a week, in the offseason) is the main reason why my Lymphedema has remained mild. (That and maintaining an active lifestyle as an adult)
What I didn’t know then, that I know now, is that swimming especially deep water exercises like synchronized swimming are one of the best therapies for Lymphedema. Water is the only thing that will conform perfectly to the contours of your body. Water naturally applies graduated compression, the deeper you are the more pressure. So water can provide the only perfectly shaped evenly distributed graduated compression to your limbs. This compression is what all compression garments are trying to mimic, but they will never conform perfectly to all the contours of the human body like water can.
The second best thing about all of this is I was moving, a lot! Lymph fluid is very thick and sludge like. It carries the garbage your body doesn’t want in its cells away from them. Movement of your muscles causes a pumping action to the lymph system that helps to keep that lymph moving. So I had the perfect compression, with hours of movement almost every day!
I was also very active in band and chorus, perfecting diaphragmatic breathing. Deep breathing is also very good to help keep your lymph moving. I was in marching band and concert band, I was in multiple choirs. Without even knowing it, I was doing Lymphedema exercises, while doing something I love.
None of this information was shared with me at the time of my diagnosis. These were things I was doing because I was an active, athletic, involved in music, 14-year-old! I was doing all of the best things someone newly diagnosed with Lymphedema could do for themselves, and loving it! (Okay, so I wasn’t great about wearing compression every day back then, my leg didn’t seem to need it, as it hardly ever swelled anymore.)
The part of me that will always identify as being an athlete, who just so happened to self-select swimming as my sport of choice, set me up for a lifestyle that would keep me active and doing many of the right things without knowing it, for a long time to come.
Movement is a lymphie’s best friend. Sitting still, not moving, is a lymphie’s worst enemy.