4.2. Laser Therapy
4.3. Lymphedema Surgery
4.4. Massage Therapy
4.5. Compression Sleeves for Legs
4.6. Arm Sleeves
4.7. Sequential Compression Device (SCD)
6. Staying on Top of Lymphedema Treatment
If you have had surgery or treatment for cancer you are at risk for developing lymphedema. Lymphedema occurs when part of your body becomes swollen when there is a disruption of the lymphatic system. The key to keeping the swelling from growing is to know what to look for and how to treat lymphedema. This injury guide will answer all your questions and get you back to all the activities you love.
Are you looking for a complete lymphedema definition? Lymphedema is the build up of lymph fluid in the body’s soft tissues that results in swelling. It typically occurs in the arms and legs but can happen in other places such as the head, abdomen, and genitals.
It is the result of damage or obstruction of the lymphatic system. There is no lymphedema cure but it can be managed through many different therapies and products.
The lymphatic system is a series of vessels and lymph nodes that carry water, salts, proteins, and white blood cells. The lymphatic vessels contain one way valves that bring the lymph fluid back to the heart.
There are three stages of lymphedema. The condition worsens as it progresses through the stages. With a quick diagnosis and treatment plan, many people who suffer from lymphedema can prevent reaching a higher lymphedema stage.
In stage I lymphedema the affected limb is swollen and may feel heavy. Pressing on the affected area will leave a dent that remains after you remove your finger. Elevating the affected limb can be effective at reducing the swelling. At this stage, lymphedema may go away without advanced treatment.
Stage II lymphedema the affected area is spongy feeling. Tissue fibrosis may form causing the skin to feel hard. The swollen area will need treatment to heal.
This is the most advanced stage of lymphedema. It is also called lymphostatic elephantiasis. The affected area is very swollen and hard. There will be significant skin changes and it will be difficult to near impossible to grab the skin with two fingers.
What causes lymphedema? Lymphedema is frequently caused by cancer and cancer treatment. Lymphedema is not cancer but the result of cancer or abnormal development of the lymph vessels and nodes.
Other lymphedema causes are radiation, infection, damage to the lymphatic system from surgery, scar tissue build up near the lymph nodes and tumors that block the lymph nodes or vessels.
Lymphedema often occurs after breast cancer patients have a partial or complete mastectomy. During a mastectomy, the lymph nodes in the underarm may be removed causing an increased likelihood of lymphedema. Lymphedema can also occur in the legs after surgery for uterine cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer, lymphoma, or ovarian cancer.
There are two types of lymphedema. Having a full understanding of each type will help you further understand your diagnosis and subsequent treatment.
This rare type of lymphedema is caused by the abnormal development of the lymphatic vessels. There are three types of primary lymphedema. The first is congenital lymphedema which begins as an infant and happens due to malformed lymph nodes. The second cause is Meige’s disease, also known as lymphedema praecox, occurs during puberty through 35 years of age. The third cause is late-onset lymphedema, which occurs after 35 years of age and is very rare.
Secondary lymphedema is the most common type. It occurs because of cancer treatment, medical procedures or any other type of damage to the lymphatic system. This article will focus on secondary lymphedema and its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.
The number one lymphedema symptom is swelling in the arms or legs. As the swelling progresses it can become difficult to bend your fingers and toes. The skin on your limbs will start to harden and the swelling will become painful. Read below to find a full list of the symptoms of lymphedema.
If you or your doctor suspect that you have lymphedema, he or she will begin with a physical exam and thorough health history. A lymphedema diagnosis can frequently be made through exam but your doctor may want to take a closer look with one of the diagnostic tools listed below.
During a lymphoscintigraphy, a very small amount of radioactive substance is injected into the patient. Then with either a probe or scanner, a doctor will be able to watch the flow of the substance through the lymphatic system to find disease or blockages.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides excellent lymphedema pictures of inside the body. One of the largest benefits of MRIs is the lack of damaging radiation needed to perform the imagining.
Lymphedema treatment is focused on preventing the swelling from starting or becoming worse. Since there is no cure for lymphedema, other treatments are done through exercise and different lymphedema products.
Once your doctor approves for you to safely do lymphedema exercises you’ll find that they are one of the most effective ways to move the lymph fluid through your body. Follow instructions from a physical therapist or doctor on how often and which parts of your body are safe to move. Stay consistent with your lymphedema leg exercises and arm exercises and you may see significant improvement.
With laser therapy, a lymphedema therapist will apply a low-level laser onto the affected area. The laser breaks down scar tissue, increases range of motion, and reduces tightness of the skin. This will all help the patient mobilize the lymph fluid and reduce swelling. Laser therapy does not hurt and is a great addition to other lymphedema therapies.
Typically, lymphedema therapy is centered on improving the flow of lymph through the patient’s body. If therapies are not enough for you, then your doctor may suggest surgery. In many cases, the surgeon will remove excess tissue that is blocking the flow of lymph fluid. Newer lymphedema surgery techniques also include lymph node transplant and repairing lymph vessels.
One of the best therapies for lymphedema is a lymphedema massage called manual lymph drainage. A trained therapist will apply gentle pressure to guide the flow of lymph fluid and in turn, reduce swelling in your arms and legs. Manual lymph drainage should not be performed if you have open sores or blood clots in the affected area.
Easy to slip on and off, compression sleeves are a simple way to increase blood-flow and reduce swelling. ( See Product at Amazon )
The swelling caused by lymphedema in legs can be battled with compression leg sleeves. These sleeves should be used when exercising to reduce swelling. The compression will guide the lymph fluid out of the leg. We love lymphedema compression sleeves that don’t slide down during movement and that can breathe to help you stay comfortable.
If arm swelling is a problem you face, these compression wraps will keep your arm in good shape. ( See Product at Amazon )
Lymphedema compression garments reduce swelling. Arm compression sleeves work just like the leg sleeves by reducing swelling and bringing lymph fluid back to the heart. If you have had a surgery that removed lymph nodes in your upper body you will most likely need a lymphedema sleeve.
For professional-grade compression treatment at home, try this sequential compression device. ( See Product at Amazon )
A sequential compression device uses an air pump to inflate sleeves that are wrapped around the legs or arms. The lymphedema pump is set to a timer and will gradually inflate and deflate. The air compression pushes lymph fluid through the vessels to keep it moving through the body. A sequential compression device can be used at home and is a great addition to other therapies to obtain the best results.
Recovering from lymphedema can happen quickly if it is caught early or it can be a lifelong battle. The key to keeping the swelling at bay is staying consistent with your treatment plan. A well thought out lymphedema prevention plan can be the best way to avoid significant swelling from appearing. Below are some easy ways to prevent lymphedema.
Lymphedema doesn’t have to be scary. Now that you have a firm understanding of what it is and how to manage the symptoms you have a head start at preventing it from becoming worse. There are many types of treatment options that we listed to help reduce swelling and get you back to all the things you love!