What is Lymphedema Physical Therapy?
Lymphedema physical therapy is the application of evidence-based evaluation and intervention techniques for the treatment of abnormal accumulations of protein rich fluid in the tissues causing swelling in the arm, leg, chest, etc.
Treatment involves a thorough musculoskeletal assessment on which an individualized treatment program is created.
Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) is the gold standard for the treatment of lymphedema. CDT involves:
- Manual lymph drainage
- Compression bandaging
- Comprehensive exercise program
- Thorough skin and nail care
Who Will Benefit from Lymphedema Physical Therapy?
Lymphedema can frequently involve patients who have had surgery for breast, uterine, or prostate cancer and can occur after surgeries that involve lymph node removal, radiation treatments trauma, or can be present at birth.
Lymphedema physical therapy can help at any stage.
Stages of Lymphedema
Stage I (Latency Stage)
- Often hard to determine since swelling may not be visible.
- Limbs may feel heavy, tired, and achy.
- Daily tasks may become difficult such as opening a jar, dressing or writing.
- Stage I may last months or years.
Stage II (Reversible Lymphedema)
- Collection of fluid in the tissues begins.
- Swelling and edema areas are soft to the touch and pitting.
- Swelling can temporarily be reduced with elevation of the limb.
Stage III (Irreversible Lymphedema)
- The accumulation of fluid does not decrease with elevation.
- The skin may feel firm and become hard increasing risk for a skin infection.
- The skin becomes non-pitting.
- There may be difficulty moving limbs.
Stage IV (Lymphostatic Elephantiasis)
- The accumulation of fluid continues to worsen.
- The skin does not pit, the swollen areas are hard and indentations in skin can occur.
- The skin can significantly change, losing its normal structure and open wounds can form.