Lymphedema is an accumulation of protein-rich fluid that occurs because of a malfunctioning of the lymphatic system.
Lymphedema typically causes swelling of the arms or legs. If lymphedema is left untreated, the risk of infection is higher because of stagnant protein.
Primary lymphedema is caused by an abnormality of the lymphatic system. It may manifest itself at birth or later in life during adolescence or adulthood.
Secondary lymphedema can result from surgical removal of the lymph nodes, radiation therapy or trauma to the lymphatic system. It may occur immediately after surgery or may not develop for several years.
Who Is Lymphedema Therapy For?
- Primary lymphedema patients
- Secondary lymphedema including: post cancer patients such as breast cancer , gynecological cancer, or prostate cancers
- Patients with swelling due to trauma of the lymphatic system
- Patients with chronic upper or lower extremity swelling
When Should I See a Therapist?
Patients should see a physical or occupational therapist if they have:
- Been diagnosed with primary lymphedema
- Been diagnosed with any of the following types of cancer: breast, gynecological, or prostate
- Swelling due to a post-surgical or post-traumatic injury
- Chronic venous insufficiencies
- Chronic arm or leg swelling
What Does Lymphedema Therapy Involve?
A thorough evaluation of the patient’s condition will be completed to determine the level of lymphedema, range of motion and strength deficits, functional difficulties and personal goals.
- Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD)
This specialized form of manual therapy is utilized to stimulate the lymph system and promote lymph drainage. Therapy is recommended three to five times per week.
- Multi-Layered Compression Bandaging
Bandaging of the affected limb using short stretch bandages will follow MLD sessions. Self-wrapping and the use of compression garments are taught to promote swelling reduction.
An individualized exercise program is given based on the patient’s deficits for strengthening, flexibility, and endurance to help promote lymph flow and drainage. The patient is encouraged to perform exercises as part of their home program and continue upon discharge from the program.
Instruction in skin care is provided. Lymphedema is a drying condition and it is essential the skin is maintained in good condition to decrease the risk of infection.
The goals of treatment are to reduce swelling to enable performance of daily living, return to work and leisure activities, improve functional use of the affected limb, decrease risk of infection, or enhance self-esteem and body image.
Preparing for Lymphedema Therapy
You will need a physician’s referral to set up an initial evaluation appointment.
What to Bring
Please bring your insurance card and a photo ID. Please wear comfortable clothing and shoes.
When to Arrive
Arrive about 15 minutes prior to your scheduled visit to complete your registration process.
For children under the age of 18, a parent or guardian must be present for the initial appointment.
What to Expect
The first visit will take a little longer, approximately 45 minutes to an hour. This provides the therapist time to talk with you and gather information and measurements.
The therapist may give you a home exercise program to help get you started on your road to recovery.