What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a chronic condition that results in a build up of lymph fluid (swelling) that occurs when the lymphatic system is either faulty or damaged. There are many causes, however the most common is following cancer treatments when lymph nodes/vessels are either removed or damaged. There is no cure for lymphedema, but with Complete Decongestive Therapy it can be effectively managed.
What are the symptoms?
Initially you may not see any visible swelling, however as lymphedema progresses you will see notable swelling
You may notice that your rings/jewelry does not fit, that your socks leave a mark on your ankles, or that shoes fit more snugly
Pins and needles in affected region
Sensations of heaviness or fullness
Feelings that skin may burst
Aching and discomfort
Frequent cellulitis infections
Early detection and diagnosis of lymphedema offers the best chance for controlling the condition.
How can a Physical Therapist help?
Based on the findings of your evaluation, your physical therapist will develop a customized rehabilitation program to ensure safe return to your desired activities. Some treatments include:
Manual Lymphatic Drainage: Your physical therapist will provide hands on gentle drainage techniques to help stimulate your lymphatic system and eliminate excess fluid build up in your affected area.
Compression Therapy: In between therapy sessions you will be placed in bandages that are designed to help soften your tissue and assist with fluid movement out of the affected body region. Your physical therapist will also measure you for custom compression garments for use after your discharge. These garments last approximately 6 months.
Functional Exercise: Exercise is one of the most important components of long term lymphedema management.
Skin and Nail Care: Proper skin and nail care is essential for lymphedema management due to risk of infection and skin irritation.
Instructions in Self-Care: Since there is no current cure for lymphedema, your physical therapist will teach you how to manage your symptoms at home to help control your lymphedema long term.