Physiotherapy Management of Lymphedema

Lymphedema refers to swelling that generally occurs in your arms or legs, including your fingers or toes, caused by a blockage in your lymphatic system. People suffering from lymphedema often experience a restricted range of motion, aching or discomfort, and a feeling of heaviness or tightness in the affected area. The swelling can range from mild to extreme which can make the limb difficult to use. The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory and the immune system. It is made up of nodes and vessels that carry protein-rich lymph fluid towards the heart and throughout your body. It is also responsible for collecting bacteria, waste, and other harmful substances so they can be filtered out by lymphocytes and flushed out from your body.  If left untreated, it can lead to serious complications such as bacterial infection of the skin or lymph vessels.

How Lymphedema Physical Therapy Can Help

Lymphedema symptoms can only be controlled and not cured. Physiotherapy management may involve manual lymphatic drainage massage, soft tissue mobilization, modalities (ultrasound and electrical stimulation), therapeutic exercises, patient education, and compression bandaging. A therapist designs a treatment program that aims to decrease swelling and pain, increase strength and range of motion, and restore function. The size of the affected limbs will be properly monitored throughout the sessions.

For mild cases of swelling, a therapist uses compression garments, elevation, and exercises to promote lymph flow. Elevating the affected limb uses gravity to help move the lymph fluid into the proper direction. Compression garments use pressure to help squeeze the lymph fluid through the affected area and prevent it from swelling up. These garments are made of stretchy, elastic material similar to a cloth bandage. They have to be worn every day until the condition has improved, and should only be taken off during sleep and bathing.

Therapeutic exercises for lymphedema include a combination of strength training, flexibility, stretching, and aerobic exercise to help lymph move along. Patients are advised to engage in light exercises that carefully move the affected arm or leg. Strenuous exercises will only make the affected limb tired. With the help of a therapist, a patient will go through exercises that are designed to gently contract the muscles to push the lymph fluid out of the swollen area.

Who Benefits from Lymphedema Physical Therapy?

Most people can benefit from manual lymphatic drainage. It’s a very gentle massage that encourages relaxation and improves immune function. It also calms the nervous system and even aids in pain relief.  It’s a non-invasive treatment that is effective in treating not just lymphedema, but also in alleviating migraines, sinusitis, nerve pain, whiplash, shoulder pathologies, arthritis, and contributes to overall general wellness.

To understand a bit more about VanCity Physio and whether Physiotherapy is suitable for your condition or symptoms, book an appointment with VanCity Physio today! 

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