Guide to Lymphedema
Lymphedema involves swelling of the lymph nodes in the arms or legs due to a blockage in your lymphatic system. One-third of women estimated that undergo axillary lymph node dissection during breast cancer will develop lymphedema. Awareness and treatment of lymphedema early help ensure faster and better outcomes. Even treatment in the chronic stages of lymphedema can still have significant benefits.
If you have an upper arm or leg swelling, it is best to check with your physician or physical therapist immediately to check for the following:
- Have cancer or have been treated for cancer
- Have a cardiac, kidney, or liver condition
What Is Lymphedema?
The lymphatic system collects lymph (proteins, excess fluid, and other substances) from the body tissues and transports them back through the bloodstream. Lymph moves slowly through lymphatic vessels to the lymph nodes. Edema or swelling is possible when the lymph increases in the body tissues. Lymphedema results when the normal drainage of fluid is blocked or a cut in the lymph nodes in the groin area or the armpit. Lymphedema is commonly caused by blockages from infection, cancer and scar tissue resulting from radiation therapy or surgical removal of lymph nodes. This condition can also be hereditary.
What Are The Most Common Signs And Symptoms Of Lymphedema?
A skilled human touch by one of our therapists is essential to our treatment philosophy at Moreau Therapy. Your appointment, generally 45-60 minutes, is structured to allow you the time necessary with our therapist to ask questions and make a real impact on your condition. Clinical studies have consistently demonstrated that the combination of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapy, education and exercise is the ideal approach to effective conservative (non-surgical) and post-operative care of movement disorders.
Our physical therapist will review your medical history and medications and perform a thorough physical examination that includes the following:
- Your Ideal weight compared to actual weight
- Measurements of your legs and arms
- Assessment of your ability to do activities of daily living
- History of previous radiation therapy, surgery or swelling
- The time between surgery and when you first noticed the swelling
- Other conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart disease, or phlebitis (inflammation of the veins)
Why Should I See A Therapist For Help?
Your therapist will work closely with you to serve as an important member of your healthcare team to design and develop a treatment program aimed at helping control the swelling and returning you to normal activities. In the early stages of lymphedema, when the swelling is mild, it can often be managed by compression garments, exercise, and elevation of the affected limb to encourage lymph flow. During the more severe swelling stages, the therapist may use a treatment called “complete decongestive therapy.” The first step often includes manual lymphatic drainage, a light form of massage and helps improve the flow of lymph from your arm or leg. The next step involves compression bandaging that helps to reduce the swelling. Your therapist will monitor your limb size throughout your treatment sessions.
Once the limb has decreased to the desired size, your physical therapist will help you begin to take over your care by developing a safe and sensible exercise program that will enhance your physical fitness without unnecessarily straining your affected arm or leg. Often the physical therapist will update your compression garments to ensure proper fitting. In addition to compression garments, our physical therapist will educate you on a proper diet that decreases fluid buildup in your tissues and skin to reduce your risk of infection.