The lymphatic system is a part of the body’s circulatory system that collects fluid from tissues in all parts of the body and returns the fluid to the blood. It removes impurities, including bacteria and cancer cells, from the circulatory system and produces important disease-fighting cells for the immune system.
Lymphedema is the failure of the body's pathways to redirect lymph fluid after a blockage occurs in the lymphatic system. This results in chronic swelling in a portion of the body (usually an arm or leg) due to accumulation of the lymph fluid (protein and water) in the tissue spaces as a result of obstruction of venous and/or lymphatic vessels or lymph nodes. This blockage may result from surgery, radiation, injury or a birth defect.
Maury Regional Medical Center Physical Medicine has physical therapists specially trained to provide comprehensive lymphedema treatment and breast cancer recovery assistance. A physician’s order is necessary to initiate treatment. Our staff is available to assist you in this process, if needed.
Signs and symptoms of lymphedema include:
- Increase in size of your arm or leg
- Feeling of heaviness or puffiness of arm or leg
Contact your physician if you notice:
- Swelling or heat in the trunk on the same side as your surgery
- Feeling of tenderness in groin or bloated abdomen following pelvic surgery
- Red patches on your arm or leg
What are the causes of lymphedema?
There are two types of lymphedema. Primary lymphedema may congenital or occur at any age for no known reason. Secondary lymphedema is more common and may develop after surgical removal of lymph nodes or other obstructing factors including scarring from infection or radiation therapy. It may happen
immediately after treatment or many years later.
Why should lymphedema be treated?
Lymphedema, if left untreated, creates
swollen limbs with an environment of
stagnant, protein-rich fluid that interferes
with wound healing and provides an environment for bacteria, increasing the potential for
infection. Infections lead to loss of motion of
the limbs, weakness and skin break-down. If the condition of
swelling continues, the tissue eventually
thickens and beomes fibrotic (hardens). In severe cases, a rare
form of cancer may develop.
What treatments are available?
A comprehensive lymphedema treatment
program that is research-based and tailored
to the individual’s needs has proven most
effective. Maury Regional Medical Center’s
lymphedema treatment program may
include any or all of the following:
- Evaluation to determine the personal
course of treatment
- Manual lymph treatment, a light hands-on
technique, to drain the fluid from the are of the body where the blockage is occurring
- Compression bandagingof thelimb to reduce the protein-rich fluid in
the swollen tissue
- Comprehensive fitness program, including
exercises, strengthening and aerobic
activities to enhance lymph flow
- Sequential compression pump, a
pneumatic pump used at low pressure on
the extremity to maximize edema reduction
- Skin care and diet recommendations
- Compression garment recommendations
Individuals who have experienced the onset
of swelling due to heredity, trauma, venous
insufficiency, lymph node removal and/or
radiation are candidates for evaluation. If
there is a question regarding active cancer or
infections, further physician review will be
With early intervention and skilled
treatment, the condition can be controlled, allowing the individual to lead a full and
normal life. However, this is frequently a
persistent condition; therefore, techniques
for self-management and maintenance of
swelling reduction and other side effects are
How can I prevent or control lymphedema?
- Check your skin daily
- Prevent infection
- Avoid fatigue and injury
- Use sunscreen
- Wear oven mitts or rubber gloves for household tasks and gardening
- Avoid tight, constrictive clothing or
- Perform mild to moderate exercise 20 minutes per day, three times per week
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Consult a physician immediately for any sign of infection
- Avoid having blood pressure and lab work in your affected extremity
- Maintain optimum weight