Lymphedema, a condition stemming from damaged or removed lymph nodes, causes mild to severe swelling among other symptoms. It is a relatively common side effect of cancer surgery and radiation therapy. While lymphedema cannot be cured, when treated properly, lymphedema symptoms can become manageable through lymphedema therapy. Earlier detection of lymphedema onset improves outcomes. A certified lymphedema therapist (CLT) can diagnose lymphedema and reduce the negative effects of lymphedema.
Lymphedema can take months to occur after cancer treatments are over and looks different amongst patients. Lymphatic buildup often occurs in the arms, trunk, neck, and legs but can also occur elsewhere. At Oncology Rehab and Wellness, our lymphedema therapy services include what is the standard of care for lymphedema, Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT). CDT consists of manual lymph drainage, compression bandaging, exercise education, garment fitting for patients, and guidance on pneumatic pumps or other devices that may be helpful in treating/managing your condition.
What a Lymphedema Therapist Does
A lymphedema therapist must go through specialized training to be certified. In addition to a a degree in Physical Therapy (or Occupational Therapy), a therapist will undergo lymphedema course intensives. If completed successfully, that person becomes a certified lymphedema therapist.
A CLT understands the inner workings of your lymph nodes and how to manipulate the muscles and soft tissues to relieve lymphatic fluid buildup. A CLT will work with you to reach a level of independence in your treatment so that the condition is well-managed.
Many of the beginning treatments cannot be done alone, since they involve bandaging techniques and massage that can occasionally be in areas that are hard to reach by yourself. The education your lymphedema therapist offers will be crucial to independently taking care of yourself.
Lymphedema Therapy Appointments
Your initial lymphedema therapy appointment should be scheduled before your cancer surgery or some time before cancer treatment begins. Finding a baseline for your health will feed into the care you receive if you have lymphedema after cancer treatment.
Pre-Cancer Treatment Appointment
There are a few factors that a CLT will consider on your initial appointment: your current health, pre-existing conditions, type of cancer treatment, and duration of treatments. Certain cancer treatments and their proximity to the lymph nodes will increase the likelihood of having lymphedema as a side effect.
Your first appointment will also help establish your relationship with your lymphedema therapist who will help you to monitor for the onset of any problems. They can tell you what lymphedema symptoms look like, how long it can take to develop, and what you can do to minimize the risk of lymphedema onset. This appointment will give you a strong foundation for proactive care.
Often, lymphedema therapists are sought well after lymphedema has started and not before, in part because their services are not as prominent in basic cancer recovery care. This is not a good thing, however, since working with a lymphedema therapist can prevent lymphedema from accelerating into the later more severe stages.
Post-Cancer Treatment Appointment
You will want to have a follow-up appointment once your cancer treatments have concluded. An assessment of your status will help you determine if lymphedema treatment is necessary. This early detection will put you in a better position for an improved outcome.
Your therapist may elect to keep you under “surveillance” for a period of months or years if you are determined to be at risk for the onset of lymphedema. This ongoing surveillance will enable the detection of lymphedema long before you notice any swelling. If you have been diagnosed with lymphedema, your CLT will continue to monitor your condition to limit the risk of complications.
Partnering to Restore Your Health
Lymphedema is not a condition you have to face alone. Working with a certified lymphedema therapist helps you to detect the onset of lymphedema and/or minimize the effects of lymphedema and provides you with the tools you need to manage the condition on your own.
At Oncology Rehab and Wellness, our certified lymphedema therapist has extensive experience and success at reducing lymphedema symptoms. Here’s what one of our past clients had to say about our lymphedema services:
Cheryl made baseline measurements and filled me in on what to expect after surgery regarding lymphedema and healing. After surgery, she treated issues that did occur, instructed me on how to maintain a healthy recovery, and also taught me how to ward off future problems. She is incredibly knowledgeable, but also very personable and caring. I feel quite fortunate to have been in her care during my recovery. I can say for a fact she helped me tremendously!
You can learn more about our lymphedema therapy program here.
We would love the chance to serve you at our office in Ashburn, VA, and help you through your lymphedema recovery. Chat with our lymphedema therapist today!