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Lymphedema Therapy

The chronic swelling called lymphedema is a result of the lymphatic system not working properly. Primary lymphedema is caused by a defect present at birth. Secondary lymphedema is caused by damage done during surgery or radiation treatment. The normal function of the lymphatic system is to remove excess fluid and proteins from the tissue spaces. When it doesn't work properly, the lymph fluid will collect, causing the swelling that can be seen and felt.

What is the Lymphatic System and How Does it Work?
The lymphatic system is a one-way transport system for the waste products that collect in the tissue spaces. It is different from the blood system in that it does not continually circulate throughout the body. It starts in the skin with tiny vessels that progressively get larger, passing through lymph nodes and finally connecting to the veins in your neck. When the fluid passes through the lymph nodes it is cleared of bacteria and is concentrated.

Signs of Lymphedema
Lymphedema can come on suddenly, or very gradually. Watching for the following signs, and responding to them quickly can make treatment much more effective. Some of the signs include:

  • A heaviness, ache or full sensation of an extremity or body part. 
  • A hot or bursting feeling in your arm or leg. 
  • Tightness of a shirt sleeve, pants leg, socks or jewelry. 
  • Frequent infections, such as cellulitis. 
  • What is the Current Treatment for Lymphedema?
    Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) is a four part program that requires your complete participation to be most effective. The four parts are Manual Lymph Drainage, Gradient Compression, Lymphedema Exercises and Meticulous Skin Care. The following is a look at the steps of CDT.

    1. Manual Lymph Drainage - a gentle, manual technique that is done in a pattern to clear the way for the excess lymph fluid to be more easily drained. It is slow and purposeful, and should be done by a certified therapist.

    2. Gradient Compression - uses bandages and eventually a compression garment. These are used to achieve pressure at the farthest point away from your body that is greater than the pressure closer to your body. This is necessary to improve the flow of fluid, and prevent the arms or legs from refilling with fluid once it is moved out.

    3. Lymphedema Exercises - Lower effort exercise that should not cause pain or soreness. These exercises should be done while wearing your compression bandages or garment to make the muscle pumping effect on lymph fluid even better.

    4. Meticulous Skin Care - prevents overloading the lymphatic system. A simple scratch can lead to an infection since the fluid is very rich in protein, a food for bacteria. Remember the lymphatic system begins in the skin, so damage to the skin can damage an already poorly functioning lymphatic system.

    5. Home Program - one of the most important elements of CDT. You will be taught how to do generalized manual lymph drainage, bandaging of your own arm or leg, how to monitor your condition and how to know when you need to seek professional help.

    For more information, call 205-343-8495 or e-mail optherapy@dchsystem.com.

    Appointments can be made by calling 205-759-7860. Lymphedema Therapy appointments require a referral/order from the patient's physician.  Referrals may be faxed to 205-759-7979.

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