The lymphatic system consists of tissues and organs that produce, store and carry white blood cells that fight infection and other diseases. Lymph vessels are present in almost all areas of the body. Along the lymph vessels are lymph nodes. Lymph nodes filter the lymph fluid and remove toxins and infections from the fluid before it enters the blood stream. Lymphedema is a condition of localized fluid accumulation usually caused by a problem within the lymphatic system.
Lymphedema can be inherited (primary) or can be result of surgery or trauma (secondary). It is most frequently seen following lymph node removal, radiation therapy or surgery, all which can damage the lymphatic system. Many times, secondary lymphedema results from treatment of cancer-breast cancer (arm swelling), colon, prostate, testicular, ovarian or uterine cancers (leg swelling). Men and women are equally at risk of developing lymphedema for months even years following cancer therapy.
Signs and symptoms of Lymphedema:
- Swelling of the fingers, toes, arms legs or chest
- A feeling of “heaviness” in the limb
- Skin tightness
- Decreased mobility of the fingers, toes, wrists or ankles
- Rings, bracelets, watches and shoes feel tighter than usual
- Trouble fitting into clothing in one specific area (e.g. shirt sleeve)
The treatment for Lymphedema is different for every person and depends on the stage and cause of lymphedema. Occupational and Physical Therapists are trained in the assessment and management of Lymphedema. Some examples include:
- Ongoing screening and monitoring.
- Training on movement and exercise to help get back to daily tasks
- Teaching modifications to help make life easier with lymphedema
- Providing instruction on self-care management, including skin care, infection prevention, and adapted clothing.
- Performance of manual lymphatic drainage via massage and exercise as well of advocacy for use of compression stockings, multilayer bandaging, or pneumatic pumps
If you would like to learn more about Lymphedema and therapeutic management of this condition, please reach out to your physician and/or a skilled Occupational therapist or Physical Therapist. Contact our therapy department Greenfield Rehabilitation at 920-467-2401 for more information.