Lymphedema is swelling of a body part due to accumulation of protein-rich fluid (lymph) in the tissues. The lymphatic system is part of our circulatory system and has important functions for our immune system. Lymphedema is a chronic condition. Left untreated, lymphedema generally worsens, causing swelling that results in limited motion in the extremity. Lymphedema creates a feeling of heaviness and may interfere with activities of daily living. It can adversely affect self-image, and in severe cases, repeated infections and skin thickening occur.
With proper treatment, lymphedema can be controlled. To achieve optimal results, treatment should not be delayed. Treatment should begin with the first onset of symptoms (swelling, joint immobility or pain). However, patients with chronic swelling will also benefit from treatment.
Appointments for lymphedema therapy at HealthPoint Rehabilitation are through medical referral. The treatment is covered by most insurance plans. As an added convenience for patients, insurance forms are filed by HealthPoint Rehabilitation.
This type of lymphedema is caused by malformation of the lymphatic system. In this case, swelling may appear after a simple accident that overloads the system. Swelling may also develop gradually, with no apparent cause, due to continuous overload of the system.
This type of lymphedema is often caused by injury, scarring, surgical removal of lymph nodes or radiation therapy treatments to lymph nodes. For instance, it is common among women who have undergone treatment for breast cancer. Women who have had surgery and radiation therapy are at even higher risk. It can also result from chronic swelling due to venous insufficiency.
Complete decongestive therapy (CDT) is the most effective treatment in the management of lymphedema and is offered through our physical therapy department. CDT is a noninvasive treatment designed to decrease and maintain the reduction of swelling.
Our specially trained lymphedema rehab team provides CDT treatment, which consists of four components:
- Manual lymph drainage (MLD) is a gentle manual treatment technique that improves the activity of the lymph vessels and reroutes the lymph flow around the areas of blockage. Patients are taught simplified self MLD to continue after therapy.
- Compression therapy helps to prevent the reaccumulation of fluid in the extremity. Special bandages are applied to the limb following each MLD session. When the decreased reduction in swelling has been achieved, patients are fitted with a compression garment, which is to be worn daily.
- Skin and nail care is taught and practiced. This is essential to prevent bacterial and fungal growth, since infections are a very common and serious complication of lymphedema. A low pH lotion is used to maintain skin moisture and reduce the chance of infection.
- Therapeutic exercise consists of gentle exercises done while wearing a compression garment or bandages to promote the flow of lymph and to improve or maintain range of motion in the extremity.