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Living with Lymphedema in Legs: 8 Natural Treatments for Lymphedema

Do your legs feel stubbornly swollen and weighed down? Do you feel pain or tingles when you try to touch them? If so, you might have lymphedema, a frustrating condition that affects as many as 10 million Americans, and 250 million people worldwide (1).

Lymphedema happens when your lymphatic system doesn’t work as it’s supposed to (2). A properly functioning lymphatic system helps your body transport and eliminate toxins, waste, and immune cells. When it doesn’t, fluid may build up in the body, especially in your legs or arms.

Some people are born with genetic conditions or lymphatic issues that lead to lymphedema, like Meige disease or Milroy disease (3). Lymphedema caused by this is called primary lymphedema (4).

The more common form of the condition is secondary lymphedema, which develops as a result of a health condition, injury, surgery, or treatment. One of the most common causes of secondary lymphedema is cancer treatment, including the removal of lymph nodes and radiation therapy. It’s especially associated with breast cancer treatment that includes a mastectomy. Secondary lymphedema can also be caused by infections, cardiovascular diseases, certain injuries, and inflammatory conditions like eczema or rheumatoid arthritis.

Lymphedema commonly strikes the legs, and when it does, it can cause pain, swelling, and even mobility issues.

Symptoms of Lymphedema

The symptoms of lymphedema—in the legs or elsewhere—can be frustrating and even debilitating. They include:

  • Swelling and fluid retention in the limbs, including toes or fingers
  • Limited range of motion
  • Heaviness in the limbs
  • Tightness in the limbs
  • Dull ache in the limbs
  • Thickening or hardening of the skin
  • Recurring infections
  • Skin discoloration
  • Blisters
  • Fluid leakage from the skin

Note: If you have secondary lymphedema, symptoms may not appear until months or years after the treatment or condition that causes it.

Note: If you have secondary lymphedema, symptoms may not appear until months or years after the treatment or condition that causes it.

Stages of Lymphedema

Lymphedema in the legs progresses in stages, based on how severe the swelling is (5).

Lymphedema Stage 0: In this stage, there is no actual swelling, but you might feel tightness or achiness in your limbs. At this point, doctors may have identified an abnormal flow of fluids in the lymphatic system.

Lymphedema Stage 1: Swelling and fluid accumulation occurs, but can be resolved when you elevate the affected area. Stage one swelling may leave a dent when touched.

Lymphedema Stage 2: In stage two, swelling becomes permanent. Elevation does not resolve the swelling, and touching the area will not leave a dent. The skin may scar or become thicker.

Lymphedema Stage 3: Stage three lymphedema is characterized by permanent swelling that does not improve when you elevate the affected areas. Skin may thicken, scars may become more prominent, and there may be a loss of function.

8 Natural Treatments for Lymphedema

If you’re concerned about lymphedema, give these natural treatments a try…

1. Cut Out Inflammatory Vegetable Oils

Woman reading nutrition label on vegetable oil in grocery store.

Inflammation is a key component of lymphedema, so one way to ease the symptoms of living with lymphedema in legs is by cutting out inflammatory ingredients—like vegetable oils (6). Some vegetable oils have been linked to inflammation, which can in turn increase your risk for inflammatory conditions that could damage your lymphatic system and pave the way for lymphedema (7).

Vegetable oils are thought to be some of the more harmful ingredients in the everyday western diet (8). One of the ways vegetable oils can increase inflammation is through trans fats (9, 10). Trans fats were banned by the FDA in 2018, but many vegetable oils may still include small amounts of these harmful fats (11).

Vegetable oils also contain high levels of omega-6, an essential fatty acid. Omega-6 can be healthy when consumed in manageable amounts, but it needs to be balanced with your intake of another fatty acid called omega-3 (12). Here’s where we run into problems: vegetable oils contain so much omega-6 that it’s difficult for the average person to make sure they’re getting enough omega-3 to balance it out in their daily diet. This type of imbalance can lead to chronic inflammation (13, 14).

Help manage your leg lymphedema by replacing these inflammatory oils with healthier ones, like olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil.

2. Take an Omega-3 Supplement

Hand holding a bottle of NativePath Antarctic Krill Oil. Softgels in the background.

The right omega-3 (AKA one that isn’t derived from vegetable oils) can actually fight off inflammation, which can help ease conditions that cause lymphedema (15). You can find omega-3s in certain foods, including some varieties of fish and nuts, but a supplement is the easiest way to ensure you’re getting enough of them consistently.

Most people associate omega-3 with fish oil, but we suggest an upgrade: krill oil. The omega-3 in krill oil is easier for the body to absorb than fish oil, and it includes an extra inflammation-busting antioxidant (astaxanthin) that fish oil does not (16).

NativePath Antarctic Krill Oil is sourced directly from the deepest waters of the Antarctic. Each softgel is packed with 85 milligrams of omega-3s to help reduce inflammation while supporting heart health, brain health, and joint health. To soothe lymphedema, we recommend taking 2 softgels of NativePath Krill Oil daily. As always, talk to your doctor before getting started, as krill oil may have a negative interaction with other medications you may be taking.

3. Lymphedema Exercises

Certain types of exercise can help manage lymphedema symptoms. Movement can help increase the flow of fluid to help move it away from your legs. Targeted exercises like ankle pumps and ankle circles are a great way to help move fluid and stay healthy. Take a look at our favorite exercises for edema and lymphedema here.

Some people like to complement these targeted exercises with other low-impact forms of movement. Yoga, walking, Tai chi, swimming, pilates, and stretching may also help ease swelling and decrease lymphedema-related pain (17).

4. Lymphatic Drainage Massage

Masseuse massaging the legs of someone with lymphedema. Lymphatic drainage.

This specialized massage is meant to prevent leg lymphedema from getting worse. It helps relieve swelling and aids lymphatic fluid in moving more freely through the body. While the treatment is meant to help the affected area, the massage itself focuses on all areas of the body to encourage proper lymphatic draining. The massage begins with a clearing stage, which is meant to create a gentle pressure vacuum for the fluid, and ends in a reabsorption stage. Because this procedure isn’t beneficial for people with certain health conditions, check with your doctor before trying it out.

5. Try Out a Lymphedema Pump

Woman sitting on bed putting on lymphedema pump boots to affected leg.

Lymphedema pumps are boots that use mechanical compression to gently press on your swollen limbs and periodically deflate. This can help ease swelling and soften tissues, all while you sit comfortably! You can buy a pump on your own, but if you do so, check with your healthcare provider for instructions on the best way to use it.

6. Wear Compression Stockings for Lymphedema

Woman putting on compression stockings on legs affected by lymphedema condition.

Compression stockings apply pressure to your legs to improve your circulation—which helps ease pain and swelling. The gentle pressure of the stockings can help improve lymphatic drainage, and the circulation boost is often accompanied by a burst of energy (18).

7. See a Lymphedema Specialist

Lymphedema specialist observes the swollen legs of someone affected by lymphedema.

A lymphedema specialist is someone who has special knowledge of not only lymphedema but the diseases and conditions that cause it. Understanding leg lymphedema means understanding the lymphatic system as a whole, and lymphedema specialists can assess your situation and offer unique solutions that other healthcare providers might not consider.

8. Let Fluid Flow as Freely as Possible

A woman sitting cross-legged with elbow resting on leg.

Encourage lymphatic fluid to flow throughout the body with the help of a few habit changes:

  • Avoid crossing your legs
  • Wear loose clothes without elastic or tight bands
  • When sitting for a long time, change your position every 30 minutes or so
  • Don’t wear stockings with tight bands unless they’re compression socks recommended by your healthcare provider

The Bottom Line

Living with lymphedema in legs is characterized by swelling and pain in your lower limbs. It can be frustrating and difficult, but there are natural solutions that can help. Targeted exercise, cutting out vegetable oils, supplementing with NativePath Antarctic Krill Oil, and lymphatic drainage massages can all help reduce your symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is cellulitis lymphedema?

Cellulitis lymphedema is a form of cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection. Cellulitis lymphedema may develop because lymphedema changes the skin and makes it more susceptible to bacteria. Symptoms can include redness, swelling, and skin feeling hot to the touch. It can also cause a fever and chills—when this happens, it’s a sign to get medical care immediately.

As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.

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Medical Disclaimer
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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