Physical therapy for Lymphedema

Physical therapy for Lymphedema

What Is Lymphedema?

The lymphatic system collects lymph fluid (excess proteins, fluid & other substances) from the body tissues and carries it back to the bloodstream. When the lymph system is not functioning properly, then the fluid & proteins will remain in the tissue spaces despite elevation, which may turn into a chronic condition. Lymphedema is a condition in which the lymphatic system of the body is unable to properly move the fluid from the subcutaneous tissue back to the blood stream for the body to eliminate. Swelling occurs in the arms, legs, head, trunk or neck when the normal drainage of fluid is disrupted, and lymph fluid accumulates in the body tissues. This can be due to a blockage or surgical removal of lymph nodes. This results in large amounts of lymph fluid collecting in the tissue.

Treating lymphedema in early stages helps ensure faster, more successful outcomes. As lymphedema is often caused by structural damage to the lymph system, it is a chronic condition. There is no cure, but the condition can be successfully managed.


Signs and symptoms of lymphedema

  • Swelling in legs, arms, shoulders, fingers, hands, chest, or neck.
  • Pitting (indentation) in the tissues of your limb (made by pressing a finger on the skin that takes time to “fill in” after removing the pressure).
  • Repeated infections in your arm or leg.
  • Skin that feels harder, tighter, or thicker than normal in the affected area.
  • Weakness in your arm or leg.
  • Aching, tingling, or a feeling that your arm or leg is heavy.
  • Inability to move certain joints, such as your ankle or wrist as freely as usual.
  • Joint pain.

Treatment of lymphedema

Lymphedema most of the times occurs after cancer treatment, but can also occur as a hereditary condition. It can cause heaviness and aching in the area affected & if left untreated can lead to increased risk of infection and wounds.

How can physical therapy help with lymphedema?

Physical therapists at SOS PHYSIO Rehab will serve as an important member of your health care team. They will work closely with you to design a treatment program to help control the swelling and meet your goals for returning to your daily activities.

In the early stages when the swelling is mild, techniques that encourage lymph flow are:

  • Exercise.
  • Compression garments.
  • Elevation of the affected limb.

For more severe swelling, use of treatment plan called complete decongestive therapy which helps improve the flow of lymph fluid which includes:

  • A personalized exercise program.
  • Manual lymphatic drainage, which feels like a light form of massage.
  • Providing you with information on skin and nail hygiene to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Compression bandaging to help reduce your swelling.

Your physical therapist will carefully monitor the size of your affected limb throughout your treatment sessions. Once the size of your limb has decreased to the desired measurements, your physical therapist will help you begin to take over your own care and will:

  • Educate you about how proper nutrition and diet, and skin and nail care can help reduce your risk of infection.
  • Update your compression garments to ensure they fit properly and best meet your needs.
  • Develop a safe and sensible personalized exercise program for you to do on your own. This program will help you increase your physical fitness without overly straining your affected arm or leg.

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