Lymphedema and Venous Edema Rehab

Lymphedema is the accumulation of protein rich fluid due to improper drainage by your lymphatic system. Lymphedema may be congenital (primary lymphedema) and occur at birth, puberty or mid-life. Secondary lymphedema may occur after cancer surgery and/or radiation.

Venous edema (venous insufficiency) is swelling that occurs due to defect of a heart valve(s) or injury to your venous system (veins). This type of swelling often happens in your lower extremities due to gravity. If left untreated, this increased swelling may also damage your lymphatic system causing phlebolymphedema.

Swelling that is left untreated causes inflammation leading to progressive worsening of symptoms. This tissue can progress from pitting (push on skin and the indent stays for a period of time) to thickening, scarring or hardening of the tissue. Early treatment is important to diminish progression which may lead to decreased movement, pain and recurrent infections.

Our physical therapists provide treatment plans which focus on improving the quality of your life. They will perform special hands-on and wrapping techniques focused on improving your overall comfort, as well as educate you on ways to self-manage.

Early Signs of Lymphedema

  • Complaints of heaviness/fullness in the arm, leg, chest/trunk, head and/or neck
  • Tingling or numbness in the extremities
  • Clothing starts to feel tight or leaves an indentation
  • Joints feel stiff on the affected limb

Components of Treatment

  • Circumference measurements, assessment of flexibility and strength to maximize independent, long-term management
  • Specialized manual lymphatic drainage (massage) to move and/or re-route excessive fluid
  • Progressive wrapping for limb reduction
  • Compression garments to maximize life-long management
  • Exercise to increase venous and lymphatic return to your cardiopulmonary system
  • Skin care to reduce the risk of infection

How to Diminish Symptoms

  • Seek therapy and establish care plan
  • Avoid constrictive jewelry and clothing on involved side
  • Perform blood pressure checks and blood draws on unaffected side
  • Use sunscreen, avoid bug bites and wear long clothing to avoid scratches as appropriate
  • Avoid hot tubs and saunas
  • On long plane or vehicle trips, perform clearing exercises (prescribed by your therapist) and walk every couple hours to increase circulation
  • Regularly inspect skin and apply moisturizing lotion

Healthy habits for patients at risk for lymphedema.

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