What is lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a condition that involves swelling of the arms or legs. The most common cause of this condition is damaged or missing lymph nodes as a result of radiation treatment for cancer. Lymph nodes are tiny glands throughout the body that carry fluid and help fight infection. When these lymph nodes are not present or not working properly, the fluid they typically transport builds up, causing swelling in some or all of the arm or leg.
“Lymph” refers to the body system that this condition impacts and “edema” is another word for swelling.
What are the symptoms of lymphedema?
While inflammation is the main symptom of lymphedema, this condition can also cause the following effects in the impacted arm or leg:
- Pain or discomfort
- Difficulty moving the limb
- Frequent infections
- Skin changes, such as hardening, darkening, puckering, or scarring
- Feelings of stiffness or heaviness in the limb
Though it is rare, 1 in 100,000 individuals will develop this condition on their own. The majority of people living with lymphedema (1 in 1,000) experience symptoms after radiation, surgery, or infection. In some cases, this condition may occur months or years after radiation. If left untreated, lymphedema can significantly impact someone’s daily life, so it is important to work with skilled physical therapy practitioners to manage this condition.
How can physical therapy benefit my condition?
At Healers of Motion Physical Therapy, individuals with lymphedema will benefit from treatment with physical therapy providers who have experience in the care of this condition. Our owner and founder, Dr. Evelyn Mora, has received advanced training in lymphedema management using the Leduc method and lymphatic drainage massage. The Leduc method involves the physical therapy provider using a specific hands-on technique to distribute lymphatic fluid from the affected limbs to other areas of the body. This not only relieves pain, but improves motion, decreases swelling, and lowers the risk of infection.
Other treatments for lymphedema that similarly lower levels of swelling include:
- Exercises, which assist in draining fluid and improving participation in daily activities
- Pneumatic compression, which is a wearable pump that periodically inflates to increase circulation in the affected limb
- Compression bandages, also known as wrapping, to push fluid from the farthest part of the arm or leg toward the center of the body
- Lymphatic drainage massage (LDM), a specific manual technique that gives the body a “head start” in redistributing and circulating the buildup on its own
- Compression garments, which are specially-fitted clothing items worn while exercising to assist in the flow of fluid
While lymphedema cannot be cured, individuals who regularly receive physical therapy treatment can significantly improve their condition. Physical therapy from professionals trained in lymphedema care can help individuals manage symptoms while preventing complications and slowing or potentially stopping the progression of this condition.
To learn more about lymphedema treatment and receive care from qualified lymphedema therapists, contact Healers of Motion today! Our compassionate and skilled team would be happy to assist you in your journey to improved health.
Atef, D., Elkeblawy, M.M., El-Sebaie, A., Abouelnaga, W.A.I. (2020). A Quasi-Randomized Clinical Trial: Virtual Reality Versus Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation for Postmastectomy Lymphedema. J Egypt Natl Canc Inst, 32(1), 29. doi: 10.1186/s43046-020-00041-5.Sleigh, B.C., & Manna, B. (2020). Lymphedema. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537239/