Working with Lymphedema: How to Make Your Job Lymphedema-Friendly

It’s bound to happen: Your lymphedema and your work life are going to come into conflict at some point. Whether we like it or not, we can’t just leave our lymphedema at home while we go off to work. That’s why it’s important to be prepared for this and to know ways to manage lymphedema while at work. We’ve put together some tips to help you navigate both your career and your condition, no matter if you’re returning to work after receiving intensive lymphedema treatment, starting a new job, or just looking for more ideas to help manage your condition every day.

The bad news: How work and lymphedema can conflict

Our jobs are important parts of our lives and take up a lot of our time. When it comes to working with lymphedema, however, the truth is that most work environments won’t start out very lymphedema-friendly. These two important aspects of life can come into conflict in many ways. One study found that lymphedema can have a negative effect on work because of the limited mobility of affected areas and limbs, the time-consuming therapy regimen, and the pain and psychological stress. At the same time, work can negatively impact your lymphedema, especially if your job involves the following:

  • Heavy lifting, pulling, or pushing
  • Repetitive movements
  • Sitting at a desk for too long
  • Standing on your feet for too long
  • Risk of cuts and scrapes

The good news: How to make your work environment lymphedema-friendly

However, by making some adjustments and asking your employer for accommodations, you’ll be able to manage your condition and feel supported in the process. This in turn can dramatically help mitigate the psycho-social effects of living with lymphedema. Your work environment can also be a positive force for managing your lymphedema effectively!

For day-to-day lymphedema management at work, follow these tips:

  • Ask your employer to make sure your workstation is ergonomic. You can also ask for a standing desk converter and a footstool to keep your leg elevated if you have lower-limb lymphedema.
  • If you work a job that involves a lot of sitting, take a walk every hour, whether just to the bathroom, around the office, or around the block. This helps get your lymph flowing! Set a timer on your phone or computer as a reminder.
  • Alternatively, if your job requires you to be on your feet a lot, make sure you listen to your body and sit down when you need to. Have a collapsible chair or perching stool nearby.
  • There are many exercises that can be done while sitting or standing. Keeping a mini bike pedal or mini stepper under your desk is also a great way to help keep your lymph flowing. Make sure you discuss any exercises first with your lymphedema therapist, however.
  • Make sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Wear your compression garment every day. Check out our fashion tips for some cool ideas on how to wear your garment at work.
  • Make sure the clothing you wear to work is comfortable and does not fit too tightly.
  • Discuss flexible hours or remote work options with your employer to make it easier to accommodate your lymphedema management routine.
  • Request a laptop from your employer so that you can continue working while you elevate your leg on the couch if you need to.
  • Discuss taking on duties that will not come into conflict with your lymphedema with your colleagues and supervisor. Discuss your work responsibilities with your lymphedema therapist to see which ones may put unnecessary strain on your lymphedema.
  • Try to avoid work duties that put you at risk for cuts and injury, and if they’re unavoidable, make sure you’re wearing appropriate protective gear to prevent any damage to your skin.

In case of an emergency or having to stay late at work, make sure you have a personal first-aid kit with extra bandages for wrapping, if possible an extra compression garment, and band-aids and antiseptic for minor cuts. Keep the contact information of your lymphedema therapist in your kit as well.

Lymphedema and disability benefits

In the United States, if your lymphedema has progressed to the point that it prevents you from holding a job for at least a year, you may qualify for disability benefits, through either the Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income programs. <br/> <br/> Importantly, however, the Social Security Agency (SSA), which determines whether a condition is considered a disability and whether you would qualify for benefits, does not list lymphedema as a disabling condition. Instead, the SSA will decide whether your lymphedema is medically equal to other listed conditions like chronic venous insufficiency, major joint dysfunction, or another listed condition. If it doesn’t, the SSA can still evaluate the functional limitations imposed by your lymphedema and assess your residual functional capacity. Disability benefits and protections vary from country to country so make sure you check with your local disability agency or a disabilities attorney. <br/> <br/> Do you have any more tips for managing lymphedema at work? What has your experience been? Let us know and discuss it with others in the free LymphCare forum!