Gardening with Lymphedema

May 27, 2021

Gardening with Lymphedema

Whether it is tending to a potted plant at home or a garden plot in your backyard, gardening is a great way to stay active and enjoy nature. However, if you have lymphedema or are at risk, you may have heard the advice to limit certain leisure activities, such as gardening, due to lymphedema risk. The good news is that modern research indicates that it is not only safe to garden with lymphedema, but it can also have a multitude of benefits!

Connecting with Nature

Many individuals enjoy gardening, but did you know that gardening can also benefit your mental health? According to a meta-analysis in 2017, gardening can increase an individual’s quality of life, satisfaction to oneself, and psychological being. Gardening can improve your general outlook and reduce stress induce relaxation by interacting with nature.

Keeps You Active

Did you know that gardening is considered a vigorous physical activity? A study from 2020 found that gardening can help improve vital signs from chronic conditions like cancer or cardiovascular diseases. Their data highlights that even light to moderate gardening activity can improve blood glucose levels, cortisol levels, and blood lipids. Don’t worry if you like to take it easy when gardening; as long as you keep moving, you will reap the benefits.

Another study examined patients with breast-cancer-related lymphedema incorporated gardening with resistance exercise. Results showed that gardening did not exacerbate lymphedema if properly fit compression garments were worn consistently. If you haven’t been active in a while, gardening may be a great entry point into physical activity; just be sure to wear a properly fitted compression garment if you are at risk for lymphedema or have existing swelling.

Risk of Infection When Gardening

Cuts and scraped from plants and bushes

Cuts from plants and bushes are the most common cause of infection. Relatively unnoticeable germs and bacteria from the external environment can infiltrate the skin and exacerbate swelling.

Insect bites

Insect bites are a potential gardening hazard. When interacting with nature, insects can be challenging to avoid, but any puncture from their bites can still be a risk factor for infection. To manage unwanted pests, be sure to keep your garden tidy and take steps to mitigate any problematic insects which may move in.

Injury from gardening tools

The sharp nature of pruning shears and other garden tools used for trimming stems, weeding, and soil excavation can easily cause injury when used without taking precautions. Wearing protective gloves when handling these tools can reduce the likelihood of injury.


The downside of enjoying nice sunny weather is the risk of overheating and sunburn. Unfortunately, heat can exacerbate lymphedema swelling. But with proper precaution and by listening to your body, you can still enjoy being outside during the warmer months. When spending time outdoors, be sure to wear sunblock, a hat, stay hydrated, and take lots of breaks when spending extended time outside. Always listen to your body; if you feel yourself getting overheated, seek a cooler environment immediately.

What Happens If You Have An Injury?

After an injury, wash the area with soap and water. By rinsing the affected area, you can keep it clean from bacteria or microbes. After that, treat it with an ointment or antibiotic cream. Cover it with dry gauze or bandage to finish, and refrain from tightly wrapping the injury. If left unattended, cuts, scrapes, or bites can lead to infection or cellulitis.

Safe Gardening Tips

To guarantee that it is safe to garden with lymphedema, here are tips to keep in mind.

Apply sunblock and wear cool, comfortable, clothing

If you're going to be in the sun for a few hours, apply SPF 50+ sunblock. Reapply every 30 minutes or an hour if applicable. In addition, wear comfortable and loose clothes. A good choice would be clothes made from 100% cotton linen. It will allow air to circulate on your body more effortlessly than any other fabric. To keep your lymphedema under control, be sure to wear a well-fitting medical graduated compression garment. It may feel tempting to skip compression when it is hot out, but our moisture-wicking and breathable garments will keep your arms cool and dry and your lymphedema in check.

If possible, get outside when the sun is about to set or early in the morning, especially in warmer months. It will truly save you from exhaustion, further complications, and sunburn.

Wear protective gloves

Protect your hands from those sharp gardening tools, prickly bushes, and pesky insects by wearing gardening gloves. It is safe to wear a gardening glove on top of your compression glove for optimal protection.

Use bug spray

Insect bites are one of the significant risk factors for infection when gardening. No one intends to get bit by an insect, so if you’re working outdoors, be sure to use bug spray to keep those pesky bugs away.

Take Care of Your Plants and Yourself Too

Is it safe to garden with lymphedema? Absolutely! Just take the necessary precautions to ensure that you are doing it safely. Keep your limbs free of any punctures or burns, protect yourself in the sun, and wear a well-fitting medical graduated compression garment. If you’re new to gardening or are starting to be active again after a long period of inactivity, be sure to check in with your doctor or therapist to make sure that adding a new activity is safe for you.