Lymphedema is swelling that results from a buildup of lymph fluid under the skin, commonly seen in the arms and/or legs.  Lymph fluid flows through lymph nodes and veins, flowing through the entire body.  At times, these passageways can become blocked and cause a buildup of fluids, most frequently in the arms and legs.  In most cases, this can be caused by the removal of or damage to lymph nodes.  Common symptoms of lymphedema include:

  • Noticeable swelling or puffiness of extremities

  • Tightness or reduced flexibility of joints

  • Tight fitting clothes or accessories

  • Feeling of heaviness in extremities

  • Tingling, warmth or tightness in extremities

  • Shooting pains in extremities

Your physical therapist will help you understand your diagnosis and provide you with ways to alleviate your pain and discomfort.  They will generate different treatment options and work with you and your doctor to create a treatment plan that works for you and your body.  Treatment options your physical therapist may discuss with you are:

  • Manual lymphatic drainage: Your physical therapist will use a gentle hands-on technique to encourage the drainage of lymphatic fluid from the limbs.  They will use a light sweeping motion of their hands to push the fluid back toward the heart, which will decrease the swelling in your limbs.

  • Compression bandaging: This kind of treatment reduces swelling that is caused by the buildup of fluids by encouraging fluid drainage.  It puts even, but firm pressure on the area of affect, providing a bit of extra force for it to flow through the veins with less resistance.

  • Decongestive exercises: Your PT will provide you with an exercise program that will use movements that encourage the drainage of fluid, and will reduce the risk of developing or worsening lymphedema.

  • Education: Your PT will discuss with you the proper diet and exercises to use that will decrease fluid buildup in your tissues, and will discuss the importance of skincare in order to decrease the risk of infection.