Lymphedema is an accumulation of fluid in a region of the body when the lymphatic system is compromised and unable to manage the flow of lymphatic fluid that can affect people of all ages for a variety of reasons. The fluid causes swelling and discomfort. While there are many unanswered questions about lymphedema, there is a great deal that can be done to treat it.
Our therapists use an interdisciplinary approach to lymphedema treatment, with ongoing communication between therapist, patient and physician. The primary goals of therapy include reduction of swelling, patient education, exercise and improved quality of life.
While there is no cure for lymphedema, it can be successfully treated and managed through a complete decongestive therapy program. An individualized treatment approach is developed based on the physician’s prescription, a thorough evaluation, and discussion with you about your goals and needs. Treatment includes some combination of:
- Manual lymph drainage: Gentle rhythmic massage to promote the flow of lymph fluid and empty fluid-filled areas .
- Compression therapy: Application of layers of low-stretch bandages to help minimize swelling by providing resistance against the skin and muscles underneath.
- Decongestive exercises: You will be taught specific flexibility, strengthening, posture, breathing and aerobic exercises designed to improve lymphatic flow and help control lymphedema.
- Skin and nail care: Since infections can be a serious complication of lymphedema, you will be instructed in meticulous hygiene to eliminate bacterial and fungal growth to reduce the chance of infection.
- Home management: Many lifestyle modifications can impact lymphatic potential, and your needs and questions will be addressed. Throughout the rehabilitation program, whether you need to be seen once or for ongoing treatments, we will be educating you so that you have the knowledge and skills to manage your particular needs independently.
Since 2020, the lymphedema program at Sibley Memorial Hospital has offered state-of-the-art body composition analysis to monitor and track changes in edema for our physical and occupational therapy patients recovering from cancer treatments. In addition, this system can track changes in body fat, muscle mass and basal metabolic rate.