Lymphedema Massage & Treatment

What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is swelling caused when the lymphatic system is compromised. This can occur when lymph nodes are removed or radiated, or when damage occurs to the lymphatic system.

What can you expect during the initial consultation?

During the initial visit we will conduct a thorough medical history and physical evaluation of the lymphedema.  We discuss the components of Complete Decongestive Therapy and come up with a treatment plan. We demonstrate self massage techniques and talk about precautions and life style changes which will limit risk. 

What is a typical session like?

A typical session takes about an hour.  It will incorporate any or all of the following

  1. Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD): a light manual technique which stimulates the superficial lymph vessels and enhances lymph drainage. It is gentle, light, slow and rhythmic and very relaxing and pleasant.
  2. Compression bandaging:  short stretch bandages are applied after MLD to prevent return of fluid to the limb.  In addition, bandages help break down fibrosis and soften the skin.  During the initial phase of treatment, bandages should be worn 23 out of 24 hours.  With proper application they should not be painful.
  3. Exercises which utilize the muscle pump to enhance lymph drainage through the limb against the resistance of compression.
  4. Education in skin care to prevent infection, cellulitis and dermatological changes.  Education also includes review of self massage and self bandaging techniques.  Our objective is to help you learn to manage the condition with a great degree of self-sufficiency. 
  5. Maintenance phase:  We are available to address any changes in condition, answer questions for doctors and patients and assist in the maintenance of volume reduction and optimal compliance with the program.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I recognize lymphedema?

The most common initial symptom is swelling. Jewelry and clothing may feel tighter. Some may also experience numbness, achiness, or a feeling of heaviness in the affected area.

Other symptoms may occur including heaviness in the limb, tightness of jewelry or clothing, and sometimes changes in the skin.

Swelling in the hands and fingers is often the first symptom of upper extremity lymphedema.

Who is at risk for lymphedema?

Anyone who has undergone surgery with lymph node removal and/or radiation can develop lymphedema. The condition can occur at any time. Unfortunately, once the lymph nodes have been affected they will not regenerate. A person can go years after injury or treatment with no symptoms. Radiation of the nodes is a factor in assessing risk. Radiation scarring of the skin can damage initial lymph vessels, but at this time there is evidence that these vessels can return to function with time and treatment. You should always take precautions with the affected limb since it will be at risk of developing lymphedema.Others at risk are those suffering from chronic venous insufficiency, severe obesity, or a family history of swelling in the legs.

Are there complications with lymphedema?

The most serious complication is a life-threatening skin infection called cellulitis, which commonly presents with redness, heat, achiness, or flu-like symptoms. If you are experiencing these symptoms, please call your therapist or doctor immediately.

Will I always have to use compression?

Once you have developed lymphedema, it is best to continue to use a compression sleeve or stocking to maintain the reduction of swelling, especially in air travel or heavy use of the limb (i.e. strength training, gardening, heavy work, etc.) Your therapist will work with you to find the most comfortable garments for your lifestyle. Frequency of visits and the need for compression is individual and depends on many factors. You and your therapist will discuss what is best for you.

Click on the button below to get information on Risk Reduction Practices from the National Lymphedema Network. You will find many more helpful tips and information regarding living with lymphedema.

“Can’t thank you enough, Erin, for the ongoing treatment which I’ve been privileged to experience with you. After visiting several different practices, I know that I’ve found someone who truly understands lymphedema and is an expert in this discipline. Thank you for your caring hands and heart.” _ Nancy Hewitt, Lymphedema patient, Cancer Survivor