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Lymphedema: What is it? How do you treat it?

Lymphedema: What is it? How do you treat it?

Lymphedema is swelling
of a body part. 

It happens due to abnormal accumulation of protein rich edema in an affected region. It most commonly occurs in the extremities, but can also occur in the face, neck, abdomen, or genitals.

There are two forms: primary and secondary lymphedema. Primary lymphedema occurs due to a malformation of the lymphatic system and often develops around puberty.  Secondary lymphedema is more common and is the result of a specific trauma impacting the lymphatic system. Reasons for the development of secondary lymphedema include cancer therapy (surgery, radiation therapy), trauma to lymph nodes, surgeries (total knee replacement, coronary bypass), skin infections (cellulitis), obesity, and 
chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).

Signs Include:

  • Decreased Flexibility in Joint
  • Tight Jewelry 
  • Tight Clothing
  • Achiness
  • Heaviness
  • Tightness
  • Redness

What Can be Done?

Currently, there is no cure for lymphedema. Lymphedema cannot be prevented, and once lymphatics are damaged, there are no present solutions to restoring function of the lymphatics in that region. 

However, treatment known as Complete Decongestive Therapy can help reduce size of the limb, decrease risk of infection, manage fibrosis, improve appearance, and enhance quality of life. CDT is the gold standard of treatment for this condition.

CDT includes 4 main components:

  1. Manual lymph drainage: manual treatment in which the lymphatic system is stimulated to facilitate drainage of healthy lymph nodes, which assists with drainage of damaged lymphatics. 
  2. Multi-layer compression bandaging: to decrease refilling of the limb through increased tissue pressure.
  3. Skin care: to decrease risk of infection and improve skin hygiene.
  4. Exercises: to further assist with volume reduction through low-intensity exercises.

    Education is also provided regarding compression wear, exercises, and skin hygiene to assist with maintenance of results. 

Therapists trained in this treatment are known as Certified Lymphedema Therapists (CLT).   These therapists are able to treat edema resulting from - Cancer Therapy, Trauma, Obesity, and Surgical Procedures. 
These are examples of some the diagnoses we treat, as well as many others. Please contact us for a detailed list and to speak with one of our CLT's.