Here at On the Mend Physical Therapy, we have therapists who are specialists in treating lymphedema—these individuals are Certified Lymphedema Therapists (CLT) and will help you improve the symptoms of lymphedema.
Lymphedema occurs when there is a build-up of lymph—a substance containing fluid, proteins, and other materials—in the body’s tissues. This build-up results from a disruption to the lymphatic system, which collects and drains lymph. While the condition is hereditary in some cases, it’s usually caused by infection, cancer, radiation treatment, or surgical removal of the lymph nodes. Patients with lymphedema are at an increased risk for serious infection, which is why it’s so important for them to seek treatment as quickly as possible.
Symptoms of lymphedema include:
- Swelling in the arms, legs, hands, fingers, shoulders, or chest
- Skin tightness in the affected areas
- Achiness and heaviness in the affected areas
- Joint pain and stiffness
In less advanced cases of lymphedema, symptoms may be alleviated by compression garments, exercise, and elevation. Once the condition progresses into more advanced stages, patients often undergo complete decongestive therapy, during which a physical therapist performs manual lymphatic drainage using specialized massage techniques. This promotes lymph flow in the affected area. The therapist may also use compression bandaging to help control swelling.
It may take several sessions to reduce swelling to the desired level. At this point, the therapist will work with the patient to design a plan for managing the condition at home.
This plan may include:
- A home exercise program to promote circulation and help patients avoid weight gain, which is a lymphedema risk factor
- Instructions for monitoring limb size and assessing swelling
- Recommendations for skin care and hygiene
Keep in mind that while all physical therapists have been trained to treat a variety of conditions, patients may benefit from seeking out a therapist who has specialized knowledge, certifications, and clinical experience in lymphedema treatment. Before making an appointment, be sure to inquire about your therapist’s lymphedema qualifications.