What is lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a chronic disease that occurs when the normal drainage of bodily fluid is disrupted. It may be caused by a blockage or a cut in the lymphatic system, usually in the lymph nodes in the groin area and the armpit. Blockages may be caused by infection, cancer or scar tissue from radiation therapy or surgical removal of lymph nodes. Left untreated, lymphedema may lead to disfigurement and life-threatening infections.
Risk factors for lymphedema include:
- Breast cancer
- Surgical removal of lymph nodes in the underarm
- Radiation therapy to the underarm, groin, pelvic or neck regions
- Scar tissue in the lymphatic ducts or veins and under the collarbones, caused by surgery or radiation therapy
What are the symptoms of lymphedema?
- Feelings of tightness in the arm or leg
- Rings or shoes that become tight
- Weakness in the arm or leg
- Aching or heaviness in the arm or leg
- Appearance of swelling
How can physical therapy help?
While there is no cure for lymphedema, it can be managed through a combination of early detection, clinical treatment, education and home work. In the early stages of lymphedema, when very mild swelling is present, the condition is treated by compression garments, exercise and elevation. If the condition progresses, physical therapy management may include:
- Manual lymph drainage (to help improve the flow of lymph from the affected arm or leg)
- Compression garment wear following lymphatic drainage
- Skin care (cleaning the skin of the arm or leg daily and moistening with lotion)
- Exercise to improve range of motion and strength of the arm or leg and to increase cardiovascular endurance
- Patient education (instruction on proper diet to decrease fluid retention and on how to avoid injury and infection)
- Garment fitting
Call our office at (910) 423-5550 to learn more. Therapy for lymphedema is covered by most insurance plans including Medicare. Our staff will be happy to verify your plan’s coverage details.