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Lymphedema Management

  • Lymphedema is a chronic, progressive condition affecting more than three million people in the United States. It is characterized by an abnormal accumulation of lymphatic fluid that causes swelling, typically in the arms and/or legs, but also in other parts of the body.

    Some people may develop lymphedema after an injury or illness and for others there may be no known cause. But most cases are the result of surgical procedures, often for cancer management, in which lymph nodes are removed. At SSM Health Physical Therapy, our team of specialized lymphedema therapists offers a safe and effective treatment to help individuals successfully manage this condition.

    Symptoms 

    Lymphedema can be both painful and disfiguring. Its symptoms include swelling and heaviness in the affected area, aches and discomfort, changes in skin texture, infection and lymph cysts that leak. As a result, patients may have difficulty walking and performing daily tasks. Many complain that clothing and even jewelry feel uncomfortable or tight. While lymphedema is not curable, studies indicate that therapeutic intervention and lifestyle modifications can help reduce many of the symptoms individuals with lymphedema experience.

    Our Approach 

    SSM Health Physical Therapy's lymphedema therapists conduct a comprehensive evaluation and develop an individualized treatment plan. We introduce the strategies, exercises, products and therapeutic interventions to best meet the needs and rehabilitation goals of each patient. Our overall objective is to help individuals:

    • Reduce swelling and inflammation
    • Enhance flexibility and strength
    • Improve skin texture and wound healing
    • Learn self-management of the condition

    Treatment 

    The specialists at SSM Health Physical Therapy use Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) to treat individuals with all types of lymphedema. This highly effective approach includes: manual lymph drainage (MLD), a massage-like technique to move lymphatic fluid; skin care; low stretch compression bandaging; and exercise. Extensive patient education and training are also key elements of this comprehensive program.

    Patients can expect to participate in therapy sessions for two to eight weeks, depending on the severity of the condition. Frequency of visits is established based on each individual patient needs. Once stabilized, patients are fitted with the appropriate compression garments for home management.