Lymphedema Treatments

At Christine F Hayes PT PC , we offer a personalized approach to the treatment of lymphedema, which most commonly presents as swelling of an arm or leg. It can also develop in the trunk and neck and sometimes occurs after lymph node removal during surgery for cancer, but can also be exacerbated after radiation or infection/ trauma to the affected area.

Lymphedema is a chronic condition, but it is usually painless. Some people describe a tightness or fullness in their limb, and the swelling is often first noticed in the hand or foot. Arm lymphedema is most commonly seen after breast surgery and frequently is combined with other issues such as decreased shoulder mobility or pain in the surgical area. Each person thus receives treatment not only for the lymphedema, but we also use manual techniques such as soft tissue mobilization, scar release and shoulder joint mobilization to restore normal motion to the affected soft tissue and joints. Similar techniques are employed for the leg, which has some different challenges due to the frequent involvement of the foot and the impact of weight-bearing throughout the day.

The gold standard for treating lymphedema is Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) which has 4 components: Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), compression, skin care and exercises. We have 3 Certified Lymphatic Therapists (CLTs), extensively trained according to the National Lymphedema Network’s education recommendations.

A typical lymphedema treatment session lasts one hour and involves 30-45 minutes of hands-on MLD, usually while the patient is lying down in one of our comfortable private rooms. The rest of the session is spent addressing the specific needs of each patient, as well as education on self-care. Managing lymphedema requires an understanding of how to do self-MLD and apply compression to maximize the results of the therapy and for long-term management of lymphedema.

Compression options are tailored to each person’s abilities and daily demands at home or work. Compression bandaging with short-stretch bandages is considered the gold standard for applying compression and patients usually spend several weeks working on this before progressing to “fitted compression garments” for long-term edema control. However, some people are simply unable to manage self-bandaging and may be more appropriately fitted for a compression garment at the start of therapy. When possible, spouses and caregivers are encouraged to get involved in the management of lymphedema as it is often easier to manage with extra hands!

The exercise portion of CDT is again individualized including a slow progressive weight training program which has been shown to reduce the number of lymphedema exacerbations, reduce overall symptoms and increase strength. Patients are also taught the importance of skin care to minimize worsening of their condition. In addition, our office has a separate cancer rehabilitation program which helps patients return to their normal activities after the fatigue and deconditioning that sometimes occurs with cancer treatments. We strive to provide a supportive and comfortable environment in which to regain your confidence, function and strength and thus help you resume your previous activity level.

Call for an appointment today at 610-695-9913!