Lymphedema - back to Programs & Services

Lymphedema is swelling in any area of the body due to accumulation of fluid in the tissues. The condition occurs when poorly functioning or damaged lymph vessels are unable to effectively drain fluid. If the lymphatic system is inadequate due to surgery, scarring, radiation, trauma, infection or too few vessels, edema will accumulate. Lymphedema usually affects the extremities; however, it can also be found in other areas of the body including the face and trunk. Swelling can vary from mild, where one feels only tightness with minimal visible changes in limb size, to severe swelling which may significantly limit movement and proper functioning of the limb. The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system and plays a critical role in keeping the body healthy. This filtering system provides disease-fighting cells for the immune system and collects bacteria, viruses, waste products and excess proteins from tissues and returns them to the blood stream enabling the body is to excrete the harmful substances.

Signs and Symptoms of Lymphedema:

- Swelling in part of the arm, leg, or trunk
- Sensation of fullness or heaviness in the arm or leg
- Decreased ability to move the arm or leg
- Aching or discomfort in the arm, leg, or trunk
- Recurring infections in the affected limb

Unfortunately, there is no cure for lymphedema; however, it can be controlled. Physical Therapy treatment can reduce swelling, control pain, improve mobility, and educate patients on prevention and maintenance strategies.

At One Step Ahead Physical Therapy, therapists have undergone rigorous hands-on training in MLD and the special treatment needs of individuals with lymphedema. Treatment for lymphedema may consist of the following:

- MLD:  A "light-touch" massage technique may support the flow of lymph fluid out of the swollen area. MLD involves special hand strokes on the involved limb to gently move lymph fluid to healthy lymph nodes allowing the fluid to drain. Self-massage techniques are often incorporated in the treatment.

- Education:  Instructing individuals regarding activity modification, proper skin care, and correct body mechanics with daily activities is important.

- Exercise:  Gentle and rhythmic exercises will assist the movement of fluid out of the limb. As the muscles contract, excess fluid is moved out of the swollen area.

- Bandaging:  Specialized bandages wrapped around the affected area assist the fluid in draining toward the trunk where the body can effectively eliminate the excess fluid. A lymphedema therapist can show you how to wrap your limb.

- Compression garments:  Once the swelling has been reduced use of a compression garment may be indicated. Compression garments include arm sleeves or leg stockings which are intended to compress the arm or leg to encourage the flow of the lymph fluid out of the enlarged limb. A physical therapist can recommend the type and size of garment.

Treatment times vary from 45 to 60 minutes and may be 2 to 5 times per week for an average of 6 weeks.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call or email One Step Ahead Physical Therapy.

Additional Resources:
Lymphatic Research Foundation - The Lymphatic Research Foundation (LRF)
Understanding Lymphedema - American Cancer Society
What Every Women With Breast Cancer Should Know - American Cancer Society
National Lymphedema Network


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