Lymphedema is swelling that occurs when lymph fluid can’t flow normally and builds up in a part of the body, often in the arm or leg. Primary Lymphedema is a genetic condition, while Secondary Lymphedema occurs in parts of the body where lymph nodes have been removed or damaged.
Lymphedema can be caused by:
- surgery that removes lymph nodes, or lymph node dissection
- radiation therapy
- cancer that spreads, or metastasizes, to the lymph nodes
- an infection or inflammation that damages lymph vessels
- injury to the lymph nodes
Symptoms of lymphedema can vary depending on the grade or stage, and may include:
- swelling in a part of the body, like in the arm or leg.
- feeling of fullness, puffiness or heaviness
- aching or burning feeling in the limb
- a tight or warm feeling in the skin of the arm, leg or genital area
- shiny skin
- trouble moving a joint in the arm or leg
- thickening of the skin
- small blisters or growth that look like warts that leak clear fluid
- skin that puckers or looks like an orange peel
- skin that doesn’t indent when pressed
- clothing or jewellery feels too tight
- itchy toes or legs
Unfortunately, some damage to the lymph system is permanent and the effects are lifelong. Treatments for lymphedema are intended to:
- lessen swelling
- relieve pain
- stop lymphedema from getting worse
- prevent infection
- improve movement and use of the arm or leg
Complete Decongestive Therapy
Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) is considered the gold standard for lymphedema treatment. It is a combination of manual lymph drainage (massage),taping, cupping, myofascial release, compression bandaging and garments, skin care, and exercises. These therapies are managed by a trained therapist. The therapist gives many treatments over a short time to help clear most of the swelling, then you can continue the program at home to keep the swelling down.
When lymphedema has progressed in severity, CDT has two main phases:
Phase I: Reductive CDT
Phase I CDT is all about getting the extra lymph out of the part of the body to reduce visible swelling and other symptoms of lymphedema. Although treatment plans are tailored to the individual, phase I CDT generally involves seeing your lymphedema therapist often for sessions that include manual lymphatic drainage (massage), compression bandaging, and exercise. Your therapist will use measurements and/or visual examination of the arm, hand, chest, trunk, or leg to decide when your phase I sessions have done everything they can to reduce your symptoms.
Phase II: Maintenance CDT
Phase II CDT is about maintaining the results of the initial intensive phase on your own. Although individual treatment plans vary, you can expect to stick with phase II of CDT for many years or even for the rest of your life. Phase II includes getting fitted for and wearing compression garments, then learning how to put them on correctly and care for them. It also includes the self-care steps, and your lymphedema therapist will teach you how to protect your body to reduce risk of flare-ups and infection, know the signs of when treatment may be needed, continue an exercise plan, and sometimes perform self manual lymph drainage.
Your lymphedema therapist can work with you over time to make sure your lymphedema stays under control, adjusting your plan up or down as needed. Every person is a little bit different: Over time, you’ll get to know how your body responds in certain situations and be able to take action accordingly. Just be sure to check with your lymphedema therapist before making any changes in your treatment plan.
Manual Lymph Drainage can also be effective in managing and treating sinusistis, arthritis, fibromyalgia, hematomas and trauma edema, venous insufficiency, and drastically improving healing time of ulcers / wounds.