Lymphedema

Lymphedema is an abnormal swelling of a body part due to an accumulation of lymph fluid.  Lymph is a colorless fluid which collects and removes waste products from the tissue spaces.  This fluid is absorbed into the lymph vessels and transported to lymph nodes for filtering before returning to the bloodstream.   Lymph nodes exist in clusters throughout the body.  Unlike the blood which is pumped by the heart, the lymphatic system relies on muscle activity to move the fluid.  Lymphedema generally involves an impairment of the lymphatic system resulting in poor circulation of the lymph.

PRIMARY LYMPHEDEMA, by definition, arises from unknown causes, and in some instances is congenital.  SECONDARY LYMPHEDEMA arises as the result of damage to components of the lymphatic system the most common being cancer that blocks the lymphatics and other examples include sports injury, surgery, trauma or infection.

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS:

  • Tightness, swelling or thickening anywhere in the extremity. Initially the swelling may fluctuate but over time it worsens.
  • Complaints of heaviness or aching of the extremity.
  • Inability to wear rings, jewelry, watches or clothing secondary to edema.

Lymphedema therapy is most effective when the condition is treated early.  It is vital that treatment be done by a health care professional, certified in one or more of the recognized decongestive therapy techniques.  The goal of therapy is to route the fluid to functional pathways, prevent backflow as the new routes become established, and use the most appropriate methods to obtain the reduction of the limb after therapy is complete.  Certified therapists have had intensive training to learn the anatomy and physiology of the lymphatic system and know how to route the fluid to functional pathways using manual techniques.