Lymphedema and Swelling Disorders

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What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is an abnormal swelling of the body, frequently in the arm or leg.  It may arise because of an abnormality present from birth or due to disruption of the lymph system sometime later.  The swelling is caused by fluids and other cells collecting in the limb because the body’s normal routes of drainage are compromised. This poor ability to clear the fluids may be due to the surgical removal of the lymph nodes and vessels,  a trauma to any part of the lymph system (including injury, infection, or radiation),  or a mechanical blockage in the system.

People with swelling related to other problems like Diabetes, Chronic Venous Insufficiency, or inflammation from surgery or injury can develop Lymphedema as a secondary problem.  Lymphedema is not reversible and it can progress to more severe conditions.   Fortunately, there are effective treatments available for long term management of the condition.

How is it treated?

Manual Lymphatic Drainage, a specialized type of massage, can be performed by an experienced Physical Therapist.  The technique  re-routes the lymph fluid into other healthy pathways.

Low stretch bandaging with appropriate padding and wrapping materials can create a pressure gradient to prevent the fluid from collecting in the limb.  In this way, the fluid can gradually be cleared toward the trunk.

Home exercise and self-massage, along with good skin care and monitoring of the limb are important components to learn.

Compression garments help maintain the reduced size of the limb over time.  They can also help minimize the increases in swelling which may occur after activity or plane flight.  Garments are best tolerated when measurement takes place after reduction and is performed by an experienced fitter. (*Note: We are not a retail store and do not sell our products off the shelf. We only dispense products to current and past patients. If you are interested in a compression garment, you must set up an appointment with one of our lymphedema specialists so they can determine the most appropriate compression option for you.)
Most PT’s who treat swelling disorders are certified in specialized techniques from one of several centers in the United States.  Without appropriate treatment, the condition might not improve or could worsen significantly. Many of our therapists have become certified  lymphedema specialists, including John Majerus, Jodie Paschall-Majerus, Laura Bancroft, Robby Trimbo, Tara Rinard, and Jessi Nerland.

For more information about lymphedema, click the following link for a complete PowerPoint presentation: Lymphedema Basics

To view videos on self bandaging and donning on and off a compression garment using various tools, click on the appropriate  link below: