Lymphedema is the accumulation of protein rich fluid and can happen in any part of the body, most often the arms and legs. The most common cause of lymphedema in the US is lymph node removal or damage during mastectomy.
What is lymph?
Normal body function and muscle activation requires continuous
pumping of fluid in and out of body tissues. Lymphatic vessels are
responsible for collecting fluid in the interstitial spaces and sending
it back to be processed and eliminated. Lymph is protein rich fluid
and has molecules too large to be returned using the venous system. The
lymphatic vessels are the only route with vessels large enough to
accommodate the protein in the fluid.
What is included in treatment for Lymphedema?
Treatment consists of 4 parts:
Manual lymph drainage - this consists of a very
light, superficial massage focusing on rerouting the lymph fluid from
the damaged lymph nodes to the healthy lymph nodes to allow
absorption and appropriate processing of the fluid.
- Application of Short-Stretch Bandages – The limb is
wrapped in padding then wrapped with a short stretch bandage to
encourage movement of the fluid out of the limb. These bandages look
like an ACE wrap but apply a different compression. They apply a
low resting pressure and a high working pressure. This allows
increased comfort in the limb when it is at rest and increased
compression with muscle activation.
- Skin Care - Education is provided on the importance of
maintaining healthy skin integrity. Because edema results in
prolonged healing time, the area is at increased risk for skin
- Activity Modification - Education is provided on activities to avoid and beneficial exercises.