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Lymphedema Therapy

Arm getting wrapped up.Here at Steele Creek Physical Therapy & Balance Center, we treat primary lymphedema (due to congenital conditions such as Aplasia, Hypoplasia, and Hyperplasia) and secondary lymphedema (due to surgical removal of lymphnodes (i.e., s/p mastectomy with axillary lymph node removal); infection, trauma, or chronic venous insufficiencies)

What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a swelling of a body part, most often the extremities, but may also occur in the trunk, abdomen or genital areas. It is a result of an abnormal accumulation of protein between cells leading to an influx of water between cells. If left untreated the condition worsens and can result in disability, infections and skin ulcers, to name a few. The condition can be successfully treated with the gold standard therapy of complete decongestive therapy.

What is the treatment for lymphedema?

Treatment for lymphedema is called Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT). Your treatment must be provided by a Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT).

This treatment involves two phases:

  • Intensive Phase 1
  • Maintenance Phase 2

The Intensive Phase typically consists of daily treatments that include the following:

  • Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) – This specialized light massage moves lymphatic fluid from the swollen area to intact lymph vessels.
  • Compression Bandaging – Special short stretch bandages are applied daily to further assist with pushing the excess fluid out of the affected limb
  • Targeted Exercises – Exercising while wearing bandages serves as an external pump. Contracting your muscles against the bandages assists with moving the lymphatic fluid.
  • Meticulous Skin and Nail Care – A damaged lymphatic system is less able to recover from injury or infection to the skin or nails.
  • Self Care Training – In preparation for the maintenance phase, you will learn self-massage, self-bandaging, and skin care.

Before and after photo of legsOnce the swelling of the affected limb has been successfully reduced, you are ready for the next phase.

The Maintenance Phase includes the following:

  • Compression Garments – To keep the swelling from returning, a compression garment is worn during the day, replacing the compression bandages
  • Bandaging – As needed, nightly bandaging is used to prevent the limb from swelling overnight after the daytime garment is removed.
  • Meticulous skin and nail care · Targeted Exercises – performed daily
  • Self-MLD – performed daily
  • Follow-up visits as needed with a CLT

Causes of Lymphedema

Lymphedema is classified as either primary or secondary. Primary lymphedema is caused by congenital malformations of the lymphatic system and may be present at birth or develop later in life, often in puberty or during pregnancy. Primary forms usually affect the lower extremities but may also be present in upper extremities.

Secondary lymphedema is more common and often the result of surgery or radiation therapy for cancer. Surgical procedures in combination with the removal of lymph nodes, such as mastectomies or lumpectomies with the removal and/or radiation of axillary lymph nodes, are a very common reason for the onset of secondary lymphedema in the United States.

Before and after photo of hands

Other causes include trauma or infection of the lymphatic system. Severe venous insufficiencies may also contribute to the onset of lymphedema (phlebolymphostatic edema). Primary and secondary lymphedema may affect the upper or lower extremity. In general it can be said that the legs are more often involved in primary lymphedema whereas secondary forms are more commonly found in the upper extremities.

Our owner and head doctor, Jon Morrissette, DPT, MTC, CLT is a certified lymphedema therapist and sees patients in a private, 1 on 1 setting.

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