What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is an abnormal collection of high protein fluid just beneath the skin. Edema (swelling) occurs most commonly in the legs or arms but can be present in the trunk, breast, head, neck or genitals. Lymphedema can be a primary (congenital lymphatic vessels missing) or secondary condition due to removal of lymph nodes or trauma to the lymphatic system.
Lymphatic fluid is normally transported out of a region by the lymph vessels. A build up of fluid can attract more fluid, increasing edema. This also creates a local inflammatory response, which results in scar tissue or fibrosis. Increased fluid and edema make wound healing more difficult and increases the risk of infection.
What treatment is available for lymphedema?
Treatment for lymphedema is a multi-faceted approach and may include the following
- Manual Lymph Drainage– a very specific massage technique used to facilitate drainage from the affected area. This technique should be performed by a therapist who is specifically trained in these techniques, such as our own Maureen McBeth MPT, CLT or Chanel Vanderhorst, DPT, CLT.
- Light exercises to increase muscle contraction and assist fluid drainage. These should be prescribed by your physical therapist or physician to specifically address your problem
- Wrapping techniques- may be performed by your therapist after Manual drainage to improve effectiveness of treatment.
- Compression garments- Properly fitting compression garments can be prescribed to aid facilitating the flow of fluid out of the extremity. Be sure your lymphedema therapist checks your fit to avoid complications from ill-fitting garments.
- Patient education about lymphedema and how to decrease symptoms and improve outcomes.