Physical therapy and lymphedema

Physical therapy and lymphedema

April 29, 2022

Lymphedema can be described as a combination of the two words lymph and hemorrhage. Lymph is a fluid which contains both b and t lymphocytes. It is responsible for immune system function in the body. Lymphedema can be described as swelling caused by lymph fluid. This is when lymph fluid leaks into the body’s soft tissues, leading to swelling in one part of the body and the legs. It may be more severe or less depending upon the amount of lymph fluid that remains in soft tissue.

Lymphedema: What causes it?

Lymphedema can be caused by multiple factors. Some of the most common causes of lymphedema are:
  • Lymphedema is most commonly caused by cancer. Lymphedema is a common complaint in nearly 90% of patients who have had breast Cancer surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. Because lymph nodes can be damaged after breast cancer surgery, lymph nodes pathways are affected. Radiation can also cause skin inflammation, which can reduce the skin’s ability to stretch and result in lymphedema.
  • The effects of chemotherapy can cause skin scarring and damage to the lymphatic vessels, which can lead to lymphedema.
  • Our skin is extremely close to the lymphatic system. Trauma to the skin may cause damage to lymph nodes or lymphatic vessels, causing disruption in lymphatic flow and lymphedema.
  • Lymphedema can also be caused by obesity. Lymph retention can be caused by excess fat in the body pressing against lymph vessels, causing disruption to their normal flow.
  • Lymph retention in soft tissue is also a leading cause of disease in the heart and kidneys.

Signs

It is a condition where there is excessive lymph fluid in the soft tissues.
  • If left untreated, swelling of the arms and legs as well as excessive swelling of other parts of the body can occur.
  • Feeling of heaviness in the arms and legs
  • Wear jewelry with care
  • Skin thinning and sensations of itching and burning
  • Skin puffiness
  • It is difficult to spot veins and arteries in the skin that are easily visible.

How physical therapy can help

The medical team should include a physical therapist in treating lymphedema. In the initial stages, a physical therapist may use compression techniques, tight clothing, and lifting the limbs to regulate the flow of lymphedema. Physical therapists can develop a series of treatments for more complicated cases of lymphedema, including massage and compression techniques as well as different exercises and manual lymphatic drainage. They also provide instructions on how to protect your skin against damage. Your physical therapist plays an important role in maintaining blood flow and lymphatic drainage and reducing lymphedema.

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