March is recognized as Lymphedema Awareness Month. An estimated 3-5 million Americans suffer from lymphedema — including many that are undiagnosed or under treated. That is more than ALS, Cystic Fibrosis, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, and Parkinson’s Disease combined. (1)
Lymphedema results from the inability of the Lymphatic system to perform one of its basic functions, the removal of water and protein from the tissues of a certain portion of the body.
Lymphedema is defined as abnormal accumulation of protein rich fluid in the subcutaneous tissues due to low volume insufficiency of the Lymphatic System. This can be gradual for some patients or be a sudden onset in others; the result is always a high-protein edema. The high protein content in Lymphedema can lead to secondary complications, such as hardening of tissues over time, infections, and increase in volume especially in untreated or mistreated Lymphedema.” (2)
The picture above shows how Lymphedema can present in the arms. It can also present in any of the following: the extremities, head and neck, trunk, external genitalia. Lymphedema can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, race, nationally, social or economic status, and co-morbidities.
Lymphedema presents with two types: Primary Lymphedema is insufficiency which can be caused by developmental abnormalities of the lymphatic system and is a result of a hereditary or congenital condition. Secondary Lymphedema happens when there is a break down or damage to the Lymphatic system, such as removal or radiation of lymph nodes in cancer surgery, or an infection of the lymphatic system. Secondary Lymphedema is typically related to cancer treatment. One statistic from Lymphedema Treatment Act demonstrated that “2 out of 5 breast cancer patients will develop secondary lymphedema within 5 years of surgery.” (3)
Secondary lymphedema can also be caused by lymphatic system dysfunction which results in an abnormal protein rich swelling of tissues. Patients who experience lymphedema with typically experience pain associated with swelling of the affected limb as well as a heavy feeling due to additional pressure places on the joints. Lymphedema patients can also suffer from psychological effects of having a large or abnormal limb to deal with.
Lymphedema is a very common and serious condition effecting millions of Americans. Early detection and treatment is vital with Lymphedema patients. If left untreated, Lymphedema is debilitating and will continue to progress ; this is why it is imperative for patients in collaboration with their health care providers be aware of early detection and be treated early in order to manage the condition and prevent disabling side effects and potential lethal complications, such as infection. There is no known cure for Lymphedema, only Life-long management of the condition.
Physical Therapist who are certified to treat Lymphedema, play a vital role when treating Lymphedema. Randomized controlled trails have demonstrated that with proper patient education for activity and exercise, along with ongoing monitoring by a PT, lymphedema may be prevented from occurring.”
There are four key components when treating Lymphedema: (1) Manual Lymph Drainage is a gentle manual treatment technique that re-routs the lymph flow around the blocked area into more centrally located healthy lymph vessels, which then drains into the venous system. (2) Therapeutic Exercise to stimulate the Lymphatic System and promote deeper breathing which helps increased the circulation of Lymphatic fluid; (3) Compression, because the elastic fibers in the skin are damaged in lymphedema and in order to prevent accumulation of lymph fluid between MLD treatments, bandage and/or compression materials are used. Lastly and most importantly is skin care due to the extreme skin that lymphedema patients suffer with, it is critical to avoid bacterial and fungal growth and subsequent infections and supply moisture to the dry skin.
Total Body Therapy & Wellness, is fortunate to have three certified Lymphatic Therapists currently on staff, and we believe it is important to raise awareness for Lymphedema within our local medical communities as well as the surrounding counties. The month of March is dedicated to Lymphedema Awareness. TBTW will begin a campaign on March 1, 2017 to raise awareness in our community for Lymphedema, for more information or to participate in our Lymphedema Awareness campaign please contact us.
For more information on Lymphedema and Lymphedema awareness, check out:
- Journal of Oncology. J Clin Oncology. 2009 Jan 20; 27(3): 390-7. Retrieved from https://lymphedematreatmentact.org/wp-contact/uploads/2015/08/lymphedema_infographic_11x8.5
- R Scott Ward, personal communication published by the American Physical Therapy Association, October 19, 2009
- Norton, S, & Zuther, J. (2013). Lymphedema Management: The Comprehensive Guide for Practiontioners. Stuttgart, Germany. Thieme Publishing Group.
Blogger: Amanda Jaynes, PTA, CLT, LMBT