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Physical Therapy for Lymphedema and How It Can Help You
The Holistic Healing Center reveals how to cope with lymphedema with effective treatment. Discover more about lymphedema physical therapy.
Lymphedema is swelling that tends to occur in the legs or arms due to a blockage in a lymphatic system. It is predicted that roughly one in every three women who undergo axillary lymph node dissection while having breast cancer treatment will develop lymphedema.
Early identification and treatment of lymphedema will help ensure improved outcomes. In this guide, we will reveal everything you need to know about lymphedema, including common symptoms and physical therapy treatment.
What is Lymphedema?
The lymphedema collects lymph from the body tissues, then carrying them back to the bloodstream. Lymph includes dead white blood cells, difficult to break down proteins, excess fluid, toxins, and other substances.
Lymph moves through the lymphatic vessels slowly and is passed through the lymph nodes.
Swelling can happen when lymph increases in the body tissues.
When normal fluid drainage is disrupted by a cut or blockage in the lymph nodes in the armpit or groin area, this is how lymphedema happens.
In most cases, lymphedema occurs because of blockages caused by the surgical removal of lymph nodes, scar tissue from radiation therapy, cancer, or infection. In some instances, though, it is a hereditary or poor lifestyle-induced condition.
Who is at Risk of Lymphedema?
There are a number of different risk factors when it comes to lymphedema. This includes the following:
- You are overweight or you have an inadequate diet, as these conditions can delay recovery from radiation therapy and surgery, as well as increasing the risk for lymphedema
- You are older
- You have inflammation of the leg or arm after surgery
- You have tumors in your chest, abdomen, or pelvis that involve or place pressure on the large lymphatic duct and/or the lymphatic vessels, which block lymph drainage
- You have cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes in your abdomen, pelvis, underarm, chest, or neck
- You have scar tissue in the lymphatic veins, ducts, or under the collar bone that have been caused by radiation therapy or surgery
- You have received radiation therapy to the neck, pelvic region, groin, or underarm
- You have had lymph nodes surgically removed in the pelvic region, groin, or underarm
How to Reduce the Risk of Lymphedema
There are a number of steps you can take to lower your risk of this condition. This includes the following:
- Keep your leg or arm clean.
- Avoid wearing any tight clothing that could constrict your leg or arm.
- Elevate your leg or arm.
- Avoid heat on your leg or arm. Don’t apply heat or ice unless directed by your physical therapist.
- Rest your leg or arm while you are recovering from any sort of treatment. While stretching and exercise are encouraged after cancer treatment, you should avoid strenuous activity until you have recovered from radiation or surgery.
- Protect your leg or arm. Burns, scrapes, and cuts can invite infection.
What are the Symptoms of Lymphedema?
There are a number of different symptoms and signs to look out for. This includes:
- Difficulty doing your day-to-day activities
- Joint pain
- Repeated infections in your leg or arm
- Shoes, bracelets, rings, or clothes that fit tighter than before
- “Pitting” in the tissues of your limb – this is an indentation that is made when you press a finger on your skin and it takes time to “fill in” once you have removed the pressure
- Inability to move certain joints, such as your ankle or wrist, as freely as usual
- Weakness in your leg or arm
- Feeling of heaviness or aching in your leg or arm
- Skin that feels thicker, harder, or tighter than normal in the affected area
- Swelling your chest, fingers, hands, shoulders, legs, or arms
How Lymphedema is Diagnosed
Your physical therapist will take a look at the medications you take and your medical history, performing a thorough physical examination that tends to include the following:
- Any conditions you may have, such as phlebitis, which is inflammation of the veins, as well as heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes
- The time between surgery and when the swelling was first noticed
- History of surgery, previous radiation therapy, or edema
- How well you are able to do activities of daily living
- Measurements of your legs and arms
- Your weight and any fluctuations in your weight
How Can Physical Therapy for Lymphedema Help?
Your physical therapist will help to put together a treatment program that will control the swelling and help you to return your daily activities. Not all physical therapists treat lymphedema, so it’s important to find one that specializes in this condition. At Holistic Healing Center, we are experts in Lymphedema and have extensive experience treating it successfully.
In the early stages of the condition, when there is only mild swelling, it is important to see a physical therapist right away so this condition does not worsen. You do not need a script to see a physical therapist, so getting it treated early maximizes your clinical outcome. Early on, lymphedema can typically be managed by elevation of the affected limb to encourage lymph flow, gentle exercise, and wearing compression garments. Your physical therapist can show you how to perform manual lymphatic drainage for your specific condition.
When the swelling is more severe, complete decongestive therapy may be recommended by your physical therapist. The initial step will typically include manual lymphatic drainage, which feels like a light type of massage, helping to enhance the flow of lymph from your leg or arm.
This will then be followed by compression bandaging that will help to reduce the swelling. Your physical therapist will help to carefully monitor the size of the limb throughout all of your treatment sessions.
Once your limb has reduced to the desired size, your physical therapist will then help you to start taking over your own care by doing the following:
- Developing a sensible and safe exercise program that will enhance your physical fitness without unnecessarily straining your affected leg or arm.
- Show you how to perform self lymphatic drainage massage using your hands or a dry body brush
- Educating you about the correct diet to follow so you can reduce the buildup of fluid in your tissues and skin care to lower the risk of infection.
- Update your compression garments to make sure of proper fitting, working with you to find the best garments for your needs.
Contact Us for Lymphedema Physical Therapy
If you have been diagnosed with lymphedema or are worried that you may have this condition, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us today.