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Physical Therapy for Lymphedema

  201-833-3085    |      physicalrehab@holyname.org

Overview

Lymphedema is a medical condition identified by swelling in the arms or legs. It occurs when there is a blockage in the lymphatic system, which collects and drains excess fluid in the body. Lymphedema is mostly commonly caused by cancer biopsies and treatment, infection and scar tissue.

Holy Name Medical Center has specially-trained physical therapists who work with patients to devise a personal plan that helps control the swelling and restores function to the affected limb. They understand the discomfort and pain that is caused by the condition and provide compassionate care using an integration of treatment approaches.

How do physical therapists help treat lymphedema?

Depending on the severity of the condition, physical therapists will work with each patient using a combination of different treatments to help reduce the swelling. These include:

  • Exercise
  • Compression garments
  • Elevation of the affected limb
  • Complete decongestive therapy – a two-step process involving manual lymphic drainage, which is similar to a light massage, followed by compression bandaging
Managing the condition

Once the limb's swelling has decreased, Holy Name's physical therapists will continue providing their expertise and support to help each patient manage the condition by providing the following services:

  • Develop a safe exercise program that increases physical fitness without straining the affected limb
  • Update compression garments to ensure proper fit and that they meet each patient's individual needs
  • Education about a diet that helps prevent fluid buildup in tissues
  • Instruction on proper skin care to reduce the risk of infection
How to help prevent lymphedema

In patients at risk for developing lymphedema, such as those who have had radiation therapy or had lymph nodes removed, physical therapists can help reduce those risks. Together with the patient, they will:

  • Develop a safe and sensible exercise program that improves overall fitness; avoids straining the affected limb; and averts weight gain that may increase the chances of developing lymphedema
  • Periodically assess the size of the affected limb and if it has increased, provide early intervention to keep the swelling from getting worse
  • Provide education on a proper diet that will help decrease fluid buildup
  • Offer instruction on skin care that can help reduce the risk of infection

All physical therapists at Holy Name are certified by the American Physical Therapy Association.