Lymphedema is swelling caused by excess lymphatic fluid (lymph) collecting in the body’s soft tissues, usually in the arms or legs.
The lymphatic system is part of the immune system and vital for immune function. Fluid called lymph circulates within the lymphatic system. Lymphedema is typically caused by a blockage of this system
What are the types of lymphedema?
Primary lymphedema. This comes from rare, inherited conditions when the lymphatic system doesn’t develop properly. This lymphedema is present at birth or shortly after puberty.
Secondary lymphedema. It is the most common form of lymphedema. It occurs as a result of something else such as infection, injury or cancer that affects the lymphatic system.
Causes of lymphedema
- Radiation treatments for cancer
- Swelling of either a part or the whole leg or arm including fingers and toes
- Swelling in the head or neck
- Restriction of range of motion of the limb
- Discomfort or aching in the affected limb
- Thickening and hardening of skin
Physiotherapy treatment for lymphedema
Compression garments: Compression sleeves and stockings for the arms and also legs relieve swelling. However It pushes the fluid back into circulation by increasing the rate that the lymphatic fluid is filtered out of the soft tissue. Compression also gives you external containment which prevents and helps control swelling. Other compression garments are designed for different areas of the body where swelling occurs. These can be fit to your needs.
Multi-layer compression bandaging
A short stretch bandage helps reduce swelling to soft tissue. They are applied with levels of pressure to help re-route fluid from the swollen areas. Once the lymph fluid is moved out of a swollen limb, it’s a good time to wear compression garments to prevent swelling from returning.
Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD): A very light form of massage involves gentle skin stretch on soft tissues completed by a therapist. Lymph from the swollen area is gently transferred into an area with working lymph vessels. Patients can be taught to perform MLD on themselves.
Exercise: Physical exercise as well as decongestive exercise is important to stimulate lymphatic drainage. The muscle pump contraction filters out lymphatic fluid, and the decongestive exercises help to stimulate the lymphatic system to take up the fluid.
Complete decongestive therapy (CDT): CDT combines compression, manual lymphatic drainage, meticulous skin care and exercise. Depending on the severity, this type of lymphedema treatment can last from two weeks to several months.
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