Lymphedema is a chronic condition which causes the body’s tissue to swell. It normally affects the arms and legs, but can also occur in the genitals, head, and chest.
What causes lymphedema?
When the lymphatic system becomes damaged or disrupted, lymphedema occurs. The lymphatic systems function is to drain surplus fluid from tissues. Therefore if this system is not working properly, it is unable to perform this function, causing tissue to swell as a result of the excess fluid. There are two types of lymphedema:
Primary lymphedema – this is caused by defective genes and develops either at birth or soon after puberty
Secondary lymphedema – this occurs secondary to an injury, trauma, cancer or an infection, which damages the lymphatic system.
What are the symptoms of lymphedema?
Symptoms of lymphedema include:
- Swelling in an area/or areas of the body
- Loss of mobility
- How can physical therapy help lymphedema
Physical therapy methods can help improve lymphedema. Techniques that may be of benefit include:
Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) – this involves specialist massage techniques which help shift the excess fluid from swollen areas towards lymph nodes where it can be drained
Exercises – specific strengthening exercises can be provided to target the muscles required in lymph drainage.