What Is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a chronic swelling in a portion of the body (usually an arm or a leg) due to an accumulation of lymph fluid (protein or/and water) in the tissue spaces as a result of obstruction of venous and/or lymphatic vessels or nodes.
Why Should Lymphedema Be Treated?
Lymphedema, if untreated, creates swollen limbs that can become infected. Infections lead to loss of motion in the limbs, weakness, and skin breakdown. If the condition of swelling continues, the tissue thickens and hardens and the problem becomes worse. Pain from the swelling pressing on nearby nerves may also occur. In severe cases, a rare form of cancer may develop.
Can Lymphedema Be Cured?
With early and skilled treatment, the condition can be controlled allowing the individual to lead a full and healthy life. A therapeutic home program is a key factor to this control.
What Treatments Are Available?
A comprehensive lymphedema treatment program that is research-based and tailored to the individual’s needs has proven most effective. A typical program may include any or all of the following:
- Evaluation to determine the personal course of treatment.
- Manual lymph treatment, a light hands-on technique is used to drain the lymph fluid from the part(s) of the body where the blockage is occurring.
- Compression bandaging, compression garments, and compression pumps may be used in treatment and/or in ongoing home program to reduce swelling and maintain the reduction of size of affected area(s).
How Can I Help Myself?
- Taking care of your skin is important.
- Avoid injuries or activities that could lead to an infection.
- Avoid changes in temperature that could lead to and/or increase swelling.
- Avoid constriction of the swollen or at risk area.
Should I Be Exercising?
Exercise, in general, is healthy for your body. However, a few things to keep in mind are:
- If it is an activity you are used to, return to it gradually.
- Walking helps increase the flow of lymph.
- Swimming is good all round exercise. Water aerobics is a good alternative if you do not swim. Skin care after exercise is important to reduce the risk of infection or drying of the skin.
- If you plan to take up a new sport as a form of exercise, ask your physician or therapist for advice.
- Rest is as important as exercise. Remember to support your limb(s) in general above the level of your heart when you are relaxing.
Who Is A Candidate For Treatment?
Individuals who have experienced the onset of swelling due to heredity, trauma, lymph node removal, and/or radiation are candidates for evaluation. If there is a question regarding active cancer of infections, further physician’s review is required. A referral from your physician is a requirement for evaluation and treatment by the qualified lymphedema specialist in the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department.
Where Is This Comprehensive Treatment Approach Available?
Cheboygan Physical Therapy and Indian River Physical Therapy have occupational and physical therapists specifically trained to provide this comprehensive research-based lymphedema management treatment.