Lymphedema is swelling that generally occurs in one of your arms or legs. It can be caused by removal or damage to lymph nodes, or when you are born without a complete lymphatic system. The most common cause, however, is after cancer treatment. Radiation, radical removal of lymph nodes and tumor removal can damage the lymphatic system. When you no longer have a complete lymphatic system in that region, swelling can occur in the interstitial spaces due to a backup or delay in drainage.
Is there help for this? Yes! Although there is no cure at this time, we can help prevent it from getting worse so you can maintain your normal lifestyle. Lymphedema, if caught early, is more easily managed. It simply takes education and the right tools to manage it long-term.
The first step is to recognize you have lymphedema. Signs and symptoms of onset include tighter fitting clothes, jewelry is tight or difficult to remove, or your arm or leg feels heavy. Other signs are active swelling after being in gravity-dependent positions, such as walking.
Think you may have lymphedema? What do you do? First, find a lymphedema therapist in your area to assess your arm/leg/head/neck or other body part and have your doctor write a referral for lymphedema management. Take care to not wear tight clothing or other items that may cut circulation off to the area that is swelling. Wearing clothes that are too small could be painful and impede lymphatic drainage.
What does lymphedema therapy look like?
1. Manual lymphatic drainage. We teach a massage technique that targets the lymphatic system and shows you how to drain the swollen area with manual touch.
2. Lymphatic decompression using wrapping or a garment (sleeve or stocking). If the swelling has progressed into later stages, you may need to be wrapped before being fitted for a compression garment.
3. Instruction in therapeutic exercises that target the lymphatic system and muscles that assist the pumping of fluid back into the circulation.
Lymphedema is not a well-known condition unless you suffer from it. There is hope for relief by seeing our certified Lymphedema physical therapist. Contact us today for an appointment!
By Lorinda Emmanuel