A diagnosis of lymphedema can be extremely overwhelming. That is why DuPage Medical Group (DMG) has specially trained Physical and Occupational Therapists who understand, and can address functional problems you may be experiencing as a result of your medical treatment. DMG uses therapists certified in Complete Decongestive Therapy for lymphedema treatment to ensure you are getting the highest level of care.
Lymphedema is swelling of one or more areas of the body caused by a buildup of lymphatic fluid. It usually occurs in the arm or leg, but can also occur in the head/neck, body or genitals. Lymphedema occurs due to a disruption of the lymphatic system, most commonly in patients who have undergone cancer treatments (surgery, chemo, radiation). People can also be born with abnormal lymphatics, causing lymphedema to form.
Lymphedema is a chronic condition. It can be managed, but not cured. The best treatment is to identify it early, and start management to improve the symptoms and prevent it from getting worse. Treatment helps reduce swelling, prevent it from worsening, and decreases the likelihood of complications. Treatment includes skin care, manual lymphatic drainage, compression bandaging, exercise, and eventual transition into an appropriate compression garment.
Lymphedema is a progressive disease, meaning if not treated, it will progressively worsen. If treatment is not started early, it can take longer to get the edema under control and the results of treatment may not be as good.
Physical or Occupational Therapists who treat lymphedema have specialized training and should be Certified Lymphedema Therapists.
Certified Lymphedema Therapists have at least 135 hours of training and have completed training by an accredited lymphatic institution. CLT’s may become certified by the Lymphology Association of North America (LANA) by taking an additional accreditation examination.
Lymphedema is best controlled by manual lymphatic drainage, a specialized massage to increase lymphatic flow; and compression, initially through bandaging and later with transition into compression garment. The American Cancer Society has recommendations on how to lower your chance of developing lymphedema or delaying its start:
- Keep your arm or leg clean.
- Keep your skin and cuticles soft and moist with regular use of lotion.
- Use an electric razor instead of a blade for hair removal.
- Avoid bug bites and sunburn. Use repellant and sunscreen.
- Avoid extreme heat or cold.
- Treat any cuts or scrapes immediately: wash with soap and water, apply antiseptic.
- Avoid shots, blood draws, injections, blood pressure on any arm that has had lymph node removal or injury. Do not wear tight clothing or jewelry.
- If your legs are affected, wear well-fitting shoes. Don’t go barefoot.
- Wear compression garment for air travel, exercise, or strenuous activity.
Being active helps lymph fluid drain. Exercise regularly, wearing your prescribed compression garment, and monitor how your edema responds to activity. Talk to your physical therapist if you have questions about activity.
Having lymphedema increases a person’s chance of developing a skin infection called cellulitis. Avoiding activities that could introduce bacteria is recommended. If having a manicure, take your own tools.
Lymphedema treatment requires a physician referral to physical/occupational therapy. Talk to your physician to see if this type of treatment would be right for you.