– Do you have swelling in your arms or legs? Does your skin feel tight or do you have less flexibility in your hands, wrist or ankles? If so, you may have lymphedema


What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema is an accumulation of fluid in one or more of your limbs most commonly but not limited to just arms and legs. Lymphedema is a chronic and pathological condition which will worsen over time if left untreated.

What does your lymphatic system do?

Your lymphatic system helps drain excess fluid from body tissues. This lymph fluid moves through lymph vessels and passes through lymph nodes where it is cleansed of waste and toxins. Lymphedema occurs when the lymph nodes or lymph vessels are damaged, and the body is unable to drain lymph fluid properly. The lymph fluid begins to collect, causing body tissues to swell.

Types of Lymphedema

  1. Primary lymphedema is congenital lymphedema that can be presented at birth, have an onset around puberty or normally after 35 years of age
  2. Secondary lymphedema is caused by an injury to a lymph node including surgical removal of lymph nodes or damage to vessels, radiation therapy, tumor blocking the lymph flow, trauma, obesity, and chronic venous insufficiency.

Signs of Lymphedema

  1. Swelling in an arm, hand, leg or foot
  2. A full or heavy feeling in an arm or leg
  3. A tight feeling in the skin
  4. An indentation remains after pressing a finger into the skin
  5. Difficulty moving an arm or leg
  6. Leakage or “weeping” of lymph fluid through the skin
  7. A change in your skin’s appearance
  8. Redness, pain, fever or other signs of infection

Treatment of Lymphedema

Lymphedema can’t be permanently cured, treatments can greatly ease swelling and discomfort and reduce your risk of infection. Each treatment is individualized to meet the needs and wants of each patient. Treatments include several of the most effective

  • methods combined into one comprehensive program. This holistic approach is known as complete decongestive therapy.
    • Your treatment may include:
      • Manual lymphatic drainage- this is a non-invasive procedure that uses light pressure to massage and help stimulate lymphatic drainage
      • Compression wraps and garments- these bandages are placed on your affected limb to help stimulate lymphatic drainage and soften any hardened tissues
      • Pneumatic compression devices- this is an electrical machine that fills with compressed air that intermittently inflates and deflates in order to stimulate lymphatic drainage
      • Aerobics, stretches, and strengthening exercises are used to improve mobility, enhance lymphatic drainage and help prevent additional symptoms

Sam Hunt PT, DPT