The Function of a Physical Therapist Treating Lymphedema
Lymphedema is progressive chronic swelling usually in extremities, but can occur in the chest, stomach and groin regions. Currently there is no cure for lymphedema, but treatment from a physical therapist is extremely helpful to prevent immobilizing side effects and possible dangerous complications (APTA.org, 2009).
Prompt discovery of limb and / breast lymphedema is key to managing and preventing complication (APTA.org, 2009). In our practice we work closely with physicians and patients to treat lymphedema quickly with minimal to no pain. We use manual lymphatic drainage therapy and begin immediate compression for long term management. Other physical therapy terms used to describe lymphedema treatment are decompression therapy, complete decongestive therapy and complex physical therapy (APTA, org,2009). Complex physical therapy for lymphedema is the gold standard of care and includes: manual lymphatic drainage, compression garments, exercise and education about skin and nail care (APTA.org, 2009). In most cases patients who receive lymphedema therapy see an 80% improvement in just one to two weeks.
Evidence based research has proven success in lymphedema treatment and management using patient education, exercise, compression and lymphedema therapy can stop lymphedema from returning (APTA.org, 2009). Early onset of lymphedema improves outcomes and reduces complications. Patients with breast cancer should be aware of the risk factors and warning signs that include:
- Overweight or increasing weight during and throughout cancer treatment.
- Lymph node removal
- Radiation therapy
- Infection or blood clot in affected extremity.
- Pain and fullness in affected limb
- Tightness in affected limb
- Noticeable swelling in affected limb
- Numbness and tingling in affected limb (APTA.org, 2009).
In conclusion, the role of physical therapist treating patients with lymphedema is to help patients identify lymphedema early to prevent lasting side effects and possible dangerous complications. Currently there is no cure for lymphedema. However, treatment from a physical therapist is highly successful in eliminating lymphedema and preventing reoccurrences.
Sincerely, Sherri Boos, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist Play Integral Role in Lymyphedema Prevention, Treatment. (2009). Retrieved from APTA.org, 2009
Role of Physical Therapist in the treatment of Lymphedema. (2009). Retrieved from http://APTA.org