Lymphedema Management


Lymphedema is the swelling of a body part due to the accumulation of excess lymph fluid. The swelling occurs when there is a disruption in the lymphatic system, usually due to surgery or radiation. Swelling can occur in any body part, but most often in the arms and/or legs.

There are two types of lymphedema:

  • Primary lymphedema can be hereditary and appear at the onset of puberty.
  • Secondary lymphedema is usually caused by infection, surgery, or radiation.

There is no cure for lymphedema, but with the right treatment, lymphedema is manageable. Our lymphedema specialists are certified Complete Decongestive Therapists (CDT) who utilize progressive physical therapy techniques and physical therapy treatments to reduce lymphedema and educate patients in appropriate self-management skills.

Physical therapy treatments and techniques may include:

  • Manual lymph drainage. Light massage encourages the natural drainage of excess fluid.
  • Multi-layer bandaging. Pressure helps drain trapped fluid.
  • Therapeutic exercise. Working muscles increase the removal of lymph fluid from the swollen area.
  • Compression garments. Gentle compression minimizes swelling.
  • Skin infection prevention. Infections can cause lymphedema or make existing lymphedema worse.
  • Self-care instructions. Self-care measures prevent lymphedema.


  • Cancer. Lymphedema is a common side effect of cancer and cancer treatments.
  • Breast Cancer. Surgical removal of lymph nodes may cause lymphedema.
  • Tumors. A cancerous tumor may grow to be big enough that it blocks the lymphatic system. Surgery to remove a tumor may also remove surrounding lymph nodes.
  • Scar Tissue. Scars and adhesions disrupt the lymphatic system and decrease its ability to drain excess lymph fluid.
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