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Exercises and Stretches that Help Lymphatic Flow

Most people know that exercise in water stimulates lymphatic flow by virtue of the counter pressure exerted by the displaced water.  Many people know wear graduated compression garments encourages lymphatic flow and the lymphatic flow is improved even further by exercise in the garments.  However, few people know that even some simple stretching exercises, especially combined with deep yoga type breathing can significantly improve lymph flow.

How Stretching Helps Lymph Flow

The start of the  lymphatic system is the lymphatic capillaries. They are tiny vessels that are entry to the lymphatic system. Opening of the capillaries are attached to anchoring filaments. During movement, stretching or when there is increased fluid in the interstitial space of  tissues [Swelling], the lymph capillary opens up.  Further stretching at the lymph node with the gentle pressure on the lymph node capsule stimulates flow. 

[Attached to the lymphatic capillaries are anchoring filaments, which contain elastic fibers. … When excess interstitial fluid accumulates and causes tissue swelling, the anchoring filaments are pulled, making the openings between cells, even larger so that more fluid can flow into the lymphatic capillary.  ]

Legend and illustration from **Wikipedia. 

Through the this mechanism stretching helps the lymph fluid move throughout the lymphatic system, releasing blockage, decreasing swelling, and promotes healthy movement of nutrients and waste.

Deep abdominal breathing or yoga breathing with the diaphragm pushing down into the belly with inspiration, helps to drain the proximal [upstream] lymph fluid and is a key part of these exercises.  Resistance and aerobic exercises build muscle, which aides circulatory pumping and further boosts the effect of stretching.

[Animation of diaphragmatic breathing with the diaphragm shown in green] legend courtesy of Wikipedia.  

Here are the stretching exercises to help with lymphatic flow.

Shoulder Shrugs

  • Stand or sit in a comfortable position.
  • As you inhale, draw both shoulders up toward your ears and then exhale, releasing your shoulders to a neutral position.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Neck Rotations

  • While Seated, inhale as you slowly turn your head to the right for a count of five.
  • Pause for one second and then exhale, bringing your head back to center for a count of five.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Perform at least five repetitions on each side.

Hip Abductions

  • Lie on your back with your arms alongside your body and your legs stretched out straight in front of you.
  • Inhale, sliding your right leg along the floor and out to the side.
  • Exhale while sliding the leg back to center.
  • Repeat on the left side.
  • Perform at least five repetitions on each side.

Ankle Pumps

  • Lie on your back with your legs and arms flat on the ground.
  • Inhale and flex the ankle and exhale and extend the ankle 10 times, flexing and pointing the toe.
  • Repeat on each side.

Bent Knee Fall Outs

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Slowly lower the right knee toward the floor by letting it fall open to the side.
  • Slowly bring the leg back to center and repeat on the other side.
  • Perform five times on each side.

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Meet Dr. Thomas Wright, medical director of Laser Lipo and Vein Center. Dr. Wright is a board certified Phlebologist and cosmetic surgery specialist, with over 15 years of practicing experience. A graduate of the University of Missouri Columbia medical program, Dr. Wright was one of the first two hundred surgeons to become a diplomate in Phlebology.

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