There are two types of lymphedema. Primary, or inherited lymphedema, occurs when a person is born with a compromised lymphatic system.
Secondary lymphedema, which is the most common cause, is acquired through a few different causes, described below.
Lymphedema Physical Therapy
What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema occures when there is an irregular collection of protein-rich fluid (lymphatic fluid) within the inner spaces of the body. Lymphatic fluid is made up of protein, water, fats, and waste cells. The lymphatic system is made up of lymph vessels which carry lymphatic fluid to the lymph nodes. These in turn filter waste and foreign matter from the fluid, and return the filtered fluid back to the bloodstream. Lymphedema occures when there is an insufficiency of this system. When the fluid cannot move freely, a build-up of fluid occurs, resulting in swelling in the affected body parts.
What causes Lymphedema?
There are two types:
Primary, or inherited, occures when a person is born with a compromised lymphatic system.
Secondary, which is the most common casue, is acquired through the following situations:
- Lymph node dissection
- Chronic Venus Insufficiency (CVI)
- Radiation Therapy
What are the Symptoms?
Individuals may experience:
- Thickening feeling in the limbs.
- Initially, swelling may vary, but typically worsens over time.
- Burning or tingleing sensation radiating down the arm or leg.
- Complaints of heaviness or aching of the limbs.
- Inablility to wear rings, bracelets, clothing or shoes because of swelling.
How Spine & Sports Physical Therapists can help:
It is important to get proper treatment for lymphedema as soon as possible, since early treatment will imporve the outcome. The length of treatment depends on the severity as well as the patient’s participation. Medication will not cure lymphedema, however, doctors may prescibe antibiotics to fight any infection that can worsen. The least invasive, but very effective approach to managing chronic lymphedema, is referred to as Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT). CDT involves a four-step process:
- Skin Care. Good skin hygiene is very important to eliminate bacteria and fungus, as lymphedema can compromise the ability to fight infection.
- Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD). Specific massage techniques will help lymph flow and create new pathways for lymph drainage.
- Bandaging and Compression. Following the MLD session, short stretch bandages are applied. These prevent the build-up of fluid in the tissues, and are to be worn until the next treatment session. At the end of the course of treatment, the patient will be fitted for a custom compression garment that will be worn going forward.
- Therapeutic Exercise. Special exercises can benefit all lymphedema patients. Appropriate exercise should help you resume activity without risking the possibility of future swelling.
In addtition to providing therapy, the therapists of Spine and Sports Physical Therapy can teach important self-management techniques that will help lead a full and active life