Learn more about the lymphedema treatments available at Oncology Rehab and Wellness during a 15-minute consultation with us.
Lymphedema’s signature symptom is swelling, most often of the arms or legs - but it can occur anywhere in the body. It can be uncomfortable, movement-limiting and predisposes one to other complications like infection or non-healing wounds.
Lymphedema treatment is effective in reducing edema and managing it long term. Our Certified Lymphedema Therapists (CLTs) provide Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) for the treatment of lymphedema. We treat lymphedema related to cancer treatments (radiation, surgery) to include upper extremity, lower extremity, head and neck, trunk and breast. We also treat non-cancer treatment related lymphedema for those with venous insufficiency or other conditions that cause lymphedema.
Causes of Lymphedema
The lymphatic system is a fragile, low-pressure network of vessels (similar to veins) connecting at “nodes.” It absorbs the fluid that normally collects in the body’s tissues and returns the fluid back into the circulatory system. Even when the lymphatic system is not directly affected by cancer, it can still be damaged by conventional cancer treatments.
While there is a genetic “primary lymphedema” that affects some persons from birth, lymphedema can be caused by other damage “secondary lymphedema,” which results from lymph nodes and vessels being damaged, commonly through cancer surgery, radiation therapy, infection, or by the scarring from any of these injuries. Regardless of the cause, the result is a “backup” of lymph, creating swelling and a host of other symptoms.
While it seems that lymphedema is most commonly related to breast cancer treatment, it is important to know that lymphedema can occur in patients following treatment for any cancer. Sometimes swelling of the arm, leg, neck, trunk, breast, face/head/neck can occur after surgery resection of cancer or lymph node dissection. Lymphedema can also occur in any part of the body after radiation treatment. Early detection and treatment are imperative for the best long-term management of the condition.
Lymphedema Signs and Symptoms
It is important to note that lymphedema symptoms may occur soon after therapy for cancer treatment or not until many years later.
The most common symptom of lymphedema is the appearance of swelling in a body region that has been affected by surgery, lymph node removal, and/or radiation therapy.
Some other common signs and symptoms of possible lymphedema are:
- Feeling of tightness in the affected area
- Aching or heaviness in the arm or leg
- Rings or shoes become tight
- Clothing seems tight in the affected limb/area
- Redness in the limb/affected area
- Feeling of weakness in the arm or leg
- Restricted range of motion
- Recurring infections (because the lymph functions both to remove wastes/toxins from the tissues, and also to return vital proteins and nutrients from the tissues to the bloodstream)
- Hardening and thickening of the skin (fibrosis)
Are you looking for relief from any of these symptoms? Please request a consultation to tell us about your condition, and we will recommend therapy services to help you.
Physical Therapy Treatment Options for Lymphedema
Our physical therapists and other specialists have assembled a large set of tools for addressing lymphedema and related difficulties. Your treatment plan may vary, but some of the most common and effective treatments include:
• Prospective Surveillance
Early signs of the onset of lymphedema are undetectable without precise measurements and if not detected early, the condition can become lifelong and more difficult to manage. Therefore, at ORW we follow the “Prospective Surveillance Model,” which involves early baselining, proactive treatment (“prehab”), and ongoing monitoring. In short, we don’t wait for symptoms to become severe: we anticipate symptoms and get out in front of them.
Read more at "How PSM Reduces Lymphedema Risk".
• Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT)
Complete Decongestive Therapy begins with manual lymphatic drainage via specialized massage techniques to move and drain the “stagnant” lymph. This is in conjunction with patient and family education on how to self manage the condition, exercise prescription to aid in lymphatic flow, compression bandaging and other long-term management techniques such as compression garments or compression wraps.
See "Managing Lymphedema Through CDT" for more details.
• Targeted Physical Therapy Exercises
The lymphatic system has no “heart” to keep its fluid in motion. Muscle movement is what moves lymph. We call this "muscle pumping". We will work with you to create an effective tailored exercise plan.
We will work with you to integrate these exercises with any other post-cancer-treatment rehab you may be doing – many exercises can produce benefits in several areas at once.
See "Exercises To Relieve Lymphedema" for further details, cautions, and some sample exercises.
• LymphaTouch® Topical Stimulation
ORW has invested in a LymphaTouch® medical device specifically for the treatment of lymphedema. It uses air suction on the skin to coax the lymph to move. Our patients love it and it produces excellent results.
• Compression Garment Fitting
Our lymphedema therapists also measure/"fit" you for long term management compression garments as well. We will recommend the most appropriate type of garment for your condition, whether "off the shelf" or custom compression garments and provide you with assistance with ordering through one of our preferred lymphedema garment vendors. These vendors can bill to your insurance provider if your plan includes coverage of compression garments. They will help you every step of the way with authorization/pre-authorization and any medical forms that are needed by your insurance company.
You can support the healthy operation of your lymphatic system by reducing the amount of toxins it has to handle.
Choosing organic, eating a more plant-based diet, and avoiding processed foods will all help. While diet is not our primary method for managing lymphedema, we do believe in treating the body wholistically, so this is a piece of the puzzle which we will address as appropriate, through our oncology dietitian who can do a consult with you.
Learn more about our Nutrition services.
Patient Outcomes and Reviews
Our oncology physical therapists have an excellent track record of success in preventing, minimizing, and reversing many of the effects of cancer and cancer treatments. Here are some of the results:
“None better. Treatment for Lymphedema with custom fit compression stocking. Perfect fit, continuing reduction of swelling and venous insufficiency. The best practice in the area. Recommended!”
“Cheryl is a joy to work with and is very knowledgeable about the best ways to treat lymphedema. She performed lymph massage, wrapping with foam and bandages for compression, and gave me exercises. I saw a rapid lessening in the swelling in my leg. I highly recommend her.”
“I would highly recommend Oncology Rehab and Wellness Resources to anyone suffering from lymphedema. My wife dealt with crippling lymphedema issues for over one year as a result of radiation treatment for breast cancer. With Cheryl's expert care and guidance Stacey received significant relief from the lymphedema in her arm.
Cheryl’s experience and expertise goes far beyond the practitioners we had dealt with before. … We certainly appreciated their efforts, but after only one visit with Cheryl we realized what we had been missing…. Even the products Cheryl uses in her practice are specialized for lymphedema treatment…”
“My surgeon referred me to Oncology Rehab prior to my surgery. 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!”
Get Started with Lymphedema Treatment
Appointments are available within 7 days.
You can call us directly. No need for a physician referral.
We are in-network with most major providers.
If at all possible, you should schedule a preliminary appointment before cancer surgery or radiation in order to complete pre-treatment baseline volumetric measures.
It is imperative to be seen prior to any breast surgery, pelvic surgery, head and neck surgery, lymph node biopsy/dissection, or even radiation treatments. By having pre-treatment measures as a reference, follow-up measurements (after treatment) can detect even small changes that may indicate the onset of lymphedema–before there are serious symptoms.
Our two Certified Lymphedema Therapists, Cheryl Guarna and Lida Pitsch, will treat your lymphedema using a variety of methods, which may include: Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT), targeted physical therapy exercises, LymphaTouch topical stimulation and fitting for compression garments for long term independent management of your condition.
It is important to continue to monitor your lymphedema ongoing until the condition stabilizes. This is done by regularly scheduled follow up assessments with our lymphedema therapists. If you are at risk for lymphedema, regularly scheduled "surveillance" visits are completed to enable early detection of any onset of lymphedema. Early detection is critical to reduce the chance of your lymphedema becoming severe or causing other problems. Follow-up is typically every three months for a year after your surgery/treatment, followed by one or two more appointments every six months typically through 18 months total. However, knowing that oncology-related lymphedema can occur many years after treatment, you will be educated on signs and symptoms of possible onset of lymphedema and how to quickly contact our lymphedema therapists for assessment. Even if you need to come back after three or four years, we are here for you!
Don't let lymphedema affect your quality of life.
Schedule a Consultation