Lymphedema is a swelling of the soft tissues, usually in the leg and ankle, or in the arm and hand, resulting from the buildup of lymphatic fluid. Lymphedema may be primary or, more commonly, secondary to surgery or radiation treatment.
Lymphedema may also develop in the legs and feet, often secondary to abdominal or groin surgery. In either case treatment is the same. Left untreated, the condition can become severe, painful, disfiguring and resistant to treatment. At first sign of lymphedema, patients should be referred for treatment because early diagnosis and treatment significantly improves the prognosis.
Physical and occupational therapists competent in lymphedema management use an intensely "hands-on" approach to treat lymphedema.
Manual lymphatic massage to gently direct fluid away from the impaired lymphatic areas
Compression bandaging to help prevent fluid from returning to swollen areas
Compression pump therapy to assist with circulation
Compression garments to maintain reduced limb size
Exercise to keep the joints flexible
Patient education, including information about skin care and home edema management, to help patients understand the cause and appropriate treatment
More about the Lymphedema Program