Lymphedema occurs as a result of damage to or structural problems within the lymphatic system. Because the normal flow of lymphatic fluid throughout the body is blocked, swelling occurs. Lymphedema may be a consequence of surgery or trauma. Sometimes people develop lymphedema for no obvious reason. Most commonly we see lymphedema in women after they have had breast surgery or cancer. In fact, while it may not appear immediately, 42% of women who have had surgery for breast cancer develop lymphedema within a year following their surgery, and 78% develop it within 5 years of their surgery. Likewise, people who have had colon, prostate or testicular cancel are also at a higher risk for developing lymphedema.
Many of the techniques used for lymphedema treatment are also quite helpful for people with other problems, such as foot and leg swelling as a result of chronic venous insufficiency, edema following surgery or trauma, or the swelling that occurs when people experience problems with wound healing.
Most people with lymphedema find it upsetting from a cosmetic point of view. But lymphedema is more than a cosmetic problem. Without proper treatment lymphedema can render a limb virtually useless due to swelling and discomfort. it can also make the limb much more vulnerable to bacterial and fungal infections. And because the lymph drainage is already compromised in these limbs, infections can become life threatening.
The certified lymphedema specialists at Rehabilitation Associates, Inc. provide a comprehensive treatment program that will reduce the swelling, assist in the restoration of proper skin integrity, and – most importantly – enable the person being treated to continue to manage their lymphedema at home. This is done using a method called ‘Complete Decongestive Therapy’ which consists of:
- Manual lymphatic drainage- a “hands-on” technique to manually move the stagnant fluid so it is returned to the normal lymphatic circulation.
- Proper skin care.
- Compression bandaging and the fitting of custom garments.
- Decongestive exercises.
- Instruction of the person being treated to carry out the necessary steps at home to control and manage their lymphedema on an ongoing basis.
When we see a person with lymphedema at Rehabilitation Associates, Inc. we evaluate the condition and work with the person to establish goals and develop a realistic treatment program. Our program is collaborative: the therapist and patient work together to achieve their goals. Throughout the treatment process patients are instructed in the “what, how and why” of their treatment. By understanding the principles and techniques involved in treatment, people take an active role in their recovery: they are instructed in exercises to perform, how to maximize the effectiveness of their garments; how to inspect their skin for the warning signs of cellulitis; and how to perform techniques to encourage increased lymphatic flow.
Proper treatment of lymphedema requires a specially trained therapist. Training is extensive and intensive. Our certified lymphedema specialists have received a minimum of 135 hours of training. This extensive training is revealed in the skills, knowledge and compassion brought to each and every treatment session with each and every patient we see.