We offer a specialized lymphedema therapy program provided by certified lymphedema therapists with extensive experience.
What is Lymphedema
Lymphedema is a collection of fluid that causes swelling (edema) in the arms and legs. Normally, lymph nodes filter fluid as it flows through them, trapping bacteria, viruses and other foreign substances, which are then destroyed by special white blood cells known as lymphocytes. Without normal lymph drainage, fluid can build up in the affected arm or leg, and lymphedema can develop. There are two types of lymphedema – primary and secondary.
Primary lymphedema is a hereditary condition that can occur in both males and females and usually affects the lower extremities. This condition most commonly affects females and develops during puberty, however, it can appear without warning at any age. Risk factors for primary lymphedema include a family history of swollen legs or feet, including babies in the family born with swollen feet or toes and current or past obesity.
Secondary lymphedema occurs in individuals who have had damage to the lymphatic system, such as cancer treatment (lymph node removal or radiation), severe burns, traumatic injury that has severe scarring, or circulatory problems in lower extremities that cause constant swelling. Additional risk factors for secondary lymphedema include obesity, multiple sclerosis and paralysis.
Symptoms of lymphedema include feelings of heavy or swollen limbs, fullness in the arms or legs, reduced flexibility in wrists, hands and ankles, localized accumulation of fluid in areas of the body including the head or neck, and discoloration of the skin in the affected limbs.
Treatment for lymphedema varies depending on the severity. Many people with lymphedema find relief by following a daily regimen of treatment as suggested by a physician or certified lymphedema therapist. The most common treatments include a combination of direct lymphatic drainage, compression garments or bandaging and the use of specialized compression pumps to gently move the lymph fluid.
Additionally, if lymphedema has progressed, complete decongestive therapy (CDT) can be performed by a certified lymphedema therapist. CDT consists of manual manipulation of the lymphatic vessels in a sequential pattern to stimulate nad re-route the flow of lymph, skin care, compression, and elevation. This treatment is very gentle and typically lasts 40 to 60 minutes.
Patients at risk for developing lymphedema, such as those undergoing cancer treatments, should visit a certified lymphedema therapist, preferably before the first cancer treatment or soon after completing treatment. At this visit, the therapist will:
- Explain lymphedema
- Provide preventive advice
- Alert you to the warning signs of developing lymphedema
- Take limb measurements
- Recommend compression garments to be worn when flying
- Discuss exercise recommendations
- Educate you about the risks of infection.